Film Review - Bad Times at the El Royale (2018) (2023)

Bad Times at the El Royale may be the title of the film, but I had a great time at the El Royale. Drew Goddard’s sixties noir-thriller is rife with thrills, humor, and twists. In the vein of directors such as Shane Black, Guy Ritchie, James Gunn and Edgar Wright, this film is sure to please many audiences. It’s thrilling, it’s fast, and it’s fun. Ohh, and one more thing. Bad Times at the El Royale sure is “no place for a priest.”.

The following review will be spoiler free.

Film Review - Bad Times at the El Royale (2018) (1)

Image via Observer

Synopsis

Directed By: Drew Goddard

Written By: Drew Goddard

Starring: Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm, Cailee Spaeny, Lewis Pullman, Chris Hemsworth, Nick Offerman, Manny Jacinto, and Jim O’Heir

The El Royale is a hotel right on the border between Nevada and California. The hotel has been run down since it lost its gambling license in Nevada, and fewer customers are attracted to its bright, neon doors. However, a priest, a back-up singer, a vacuum salesman, and a hippie all find themselves arriving on the same evening.

The El Royale is not as it seems, and neither are all of its guests. Who has bad intentions? Who’s going to get killed? What is the El Royale really hiding?

(Video) Bad Times at the El Royale - Movie Review

The answers to those questions are spoilers, so you’ll have to watch the film to find out.

Background

After Infinity War, this has been my personal most anticipated film of the year. From the first trailer (above) I was hooked. Drew Goddard has had a string of well-written films over the past five years, and so I felt that this film had solid ground from which to spring its higher than normal ambition. Thankfully, I was not disappointed. This film is an amalgam of styles and ideas that weaves them together better than it has any right to.

Sometimes this film is a period-piece, sometimes it’s a Clue remake, other times it’s a Pulp Fiction-esque ensemble. Thankfully, the film hits most, if not all, of its notes. The majority of the cast is used to their full potential without stealing each other’s limelight. Characters feel unique and distinct despite all being introduced around the same time. Some mysteries unravel easily, others unravel thrillingly. What this film shines most in is its balance between the motley crew of elements coming together inside of it.

Big Names

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Image via Digg

Perhaps the most ambitious aspect of this movie is the A-list cast. In particular, Jeff Bridges, Chris Hemsworth, Jon Hamm, and Dakota Johnson are some of the most in demand actors in Hollywood presently. Even if they are balanced out with relative newcomers to the A-list; Cynthia Erivo, Cailee Spaeny, and Lewis Pullman.

Normally, this many “big name” actors in a single film is bad. This is generally the case because the use of this many “big” actors helps the audience identify the characters by popularity rather than character development. Take Hotel Artemis, for example. This film relies heavily on the fact that you won’t remember it’s character’s names, but you will recognize the cast. Recognizable stars such as Jeff Goldblum, Dave Bautista, Sterling K. Brown, and the legendary Jodie Foster are used for their star power. The addition of recognizable and bankable stars typically leads to some poorly written and underwhelming characters. However, Bad Times at the El Royale manages to give each of its distinct characters their due.

Not only are the characters distinct from one another, but they each have room to grow in a crowded landscape. Some grow more than others, yes, but none of these characters feel like loose ends that need tying. That being said, some of these characters are a little underwhelming in context of the central story and conflict. However, this is a rather small note compared to the charm and sincerity that the actors bring to their roles.

Ambiguity

Film Review - Bad Times at the El Royale (2018) (3)

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(Video) Bad Times at the El Royale (2018) Movie Review (No Spoilers)

This film does not cleanly fit into a single genre. Much like Pulp Fiction, Bad Times at the El Royale fits into several. The film is part thriller, part mystery, part action, and part drama. There’s a little bit of everything blended into the mix. This works particularly well for the film as it is divided into distinctly titled segments, borrowing the staple framework of Quentin Tarantino. In fact, this film almost feels like a love-letter to the director, gushing especially over the aforementioned Pulp Fiction and The Hateful Eight.

Despite the clear influence of Tarantino, Bad Times at the El Royale still manages to be unique and a beast of its own. While there are clear cinematic influences from almost everywhere, the film manages to be something fresh. Perhaps this is where the film shines brightest. It is an amalgam of dozens of other movies, but it does not lose itself among them. Rather, by nodding to specific other films and genres, this film gives itself a pleasant sense of ambiguity. It is hard to nail down exactly what this movie is and what it is about. You can pinpoint topics such as racism, PTSD, and good old-fashioned revenge, but none of those thematic designations can encompass the entire story, much less the entire film. Bad Times at the El Royale borrows from everywhere to create something fresh.

Envelope Pushing

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Image via Polygon

Bad Times at the El Royale is no place for a priest, but that doesn’t mean that it pushes the envelope too far. Rather, the film finds balance in pushing the envelope just far enough to double down on its surprises and shock the audience in a way that any good thriller should. Deaths come suddenly and brutally, but not extremely graphically. The action feels intense and violent, but not to the point of being overly gory.

Director Drew Goddard is clearly able to take risks with the film, but doesn’t do so at the expense of the overall story and tone. The director takes risks when it comes to character development and narrative. Unlike his influence, Quentin Tarantino, Goddard does not use this as an excuse to push the violence a step too far. (This isn’t a discredit to Tarantino, but is an issue that comes to discussion with each of his films.) The result of envelope pushing is a satisfying thriller-mystery that leaves you wanting more.

Whimsical Realism

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(Video) Bad Times At The El Royale (2018) - Movie Review

Image via Chris Hemsworth Gifs

While Bad Times at the El Royale’s narrative is similar to Pulp Fiction, it shares tone and style with an emerging sub-classification of film. This sub-classification does not yet have a name to the best of my knowledge. Thus, in the name of MovieBabble, I will classify it here. This sub-genre is what makes Guardians of the Galaxy and Baby Driver stand out. It is what Suicide Squad tried to copy, and it is what has once again been utilized well in Bad Times at the El Royale.

The sub-genre of which I’m speaking is that of the Whimsical-Realism that is found in the Guardians of the Galaxy films and Baby Driver. And by Whimsical-Realism, I mean the balance that these films strike between what is “real” in their narrative worlds and the absurdity or surreal nature of the film’s events. These films feature down-to-Earth characters that typically have tragic backstories and noticeable personality flaws and/or disabilities. These characters have a firmly established place within their narrative world, but also seem to be able to slightly bend its rules and live somewhat outside of it. Peter Quill and “Baby” fit into this mold, as do about half of the characters in Bad Times at the El Royale.

This approach to character is the first main distinction of Whimsical-Realism, but there is one other major distinction between these films and others like them: the soundtrack.

The Soundtrack Pack

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Image via Collider

Having a great soundtrack in a movie is nothing new. However, the films discussed above utilize soundtracks in a way that is fairly new, and far more uncommon. Instead of the soundtrack augmenting the film, as is typical of any non-musical soundtrack, these films are driven by the soundtrack. While this is typically found in musicals, which use singing and legitimate musical numbers, whimsical-realist films use music organically in the environment of their films.

Bad Times at the El Royale is no exception to this. By using a soundtrack that draws solely from the tracks of the 1950s-60s, the film builds its own unique atmosphere. The music drives the story at several points and the combination of the Isley Brothers and murders is quite original to say the least. The film’s soundtrack is used so that it feels like a character of its own, interacting with and reacting to each of the characters in their own way. Thus, the thriller has a greater sense of whimsy amidst its more dramatic elements.

Final Thoughts

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(Video) Bad Times At The El Royale reviewed by Mark Kermode

Image via Vulture

Bad Times at the El Royale is not without its flaws, but those flaws feel nearly insignificant in contrast to the film’s overall quality. The film is good, and in my opinion it may even be great. However, it is definitely not a film for universal appeal. If Chris Hemsworth, thrillers, or a good mystery are your thing, then you’re in luck. If none of those appeal to you, then you will still enjoy it, just not to the same degree.

Drew Goddard is the real star here, proving that Cabin in the Woods isn’t a fluke. Bad Times at the El Royale cements his career as one to watch.

Grade: B+

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Bad Times at the El RoyaleChris HemsworthDrew GoddardFilmInfinity WarMovie ReviewMovie ReviewsMovieBabbleMoviesPulp FictionQuentin TarantinoReviewsSoundtrackThriller

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(Video) Bad Times at the El Royale (2018) - Movie Review

Collin Willis

Collin is a Media Arts Student at Wichita State University. In addition to his work for MovieBabble, Collin is an avid screenwriter and director of short films.

FAQs

Is Bad Times at El Royale a good movie? ›

Critic Reviews for Bad Times at the El Royale

It's a best-of-the-'60s jukebox, but it has a few hit tunes among the duds, and some enjoyable surprise B-sides that you really don't expect Goddard to spin. The performances are all top-notch, especially from Erivo and Bridges.

What is the movie Bad Times at the El Royale about? ›

Is Bad Times at the El Royale a horror? ›

Optimistically set at the intersection of Agatha Christie and Quentin Tarantino, “Bad Times” is a hard-boiled thriller with flashes of a horror but largely a statement of authorial intent.

Was Bad Times at the El Royale shot on film? ›

Shot on Kodak 35mm film, Bad Times at the El Royale is considered by some to be among the finest work that cinematographer Seamus McGarvey BSC ASC has accomplished to date.

Is the Royale based on a true story? ›

It's based on a real, infamous resort with scandalous connections to Marilyn Monroe, J.F.K., and Frank Sinatra. Yes, there really was a scandal-prone hotel and casino that straddled the state line, appropriately called the Cal Neva.

Is El Royale a true story? ›

Is Bad Times at the El Royale based on a true story? While Bad Times at the El Royale is technically an original story, the hotel is based on the Cal Neva Lodge and Casino located on the borderline between the two states, which was open from 1926 to 2013.

What did Rose do in El Royale? ›

Rose Summerspring is the secondary antagonist of the 2018 movie Bad Times at the El Royale. She is the innocent younger sister of Emily Summerspring and desperate for an escape from their abusive father, Rose ends up being seduced and coaxed by cult leader Billy Lee to join him as a follower.

Is the El Royale purgatory? ›

Technically, it's set in a hotel that straddles the Nevada-California state line, but the otherworldly air at the El Royale gives away the game: This is a movie about purgatory and judgment, and whether anyone really can earn their way out.

Is there a real El Royale hotel? ›

The El Royale Isn't A Real Hotel, But 'Bad Times' Is Inspired By Some Shady Haunts Of The Rich & Famous. Ridgemont High served as the site of some "fast times" in one classic high school movie, and now the El Royale is hosting a different kind of experience.

Where was the El Royale filmed? ›

Was the film Bad Times at the El Royale actually filmed on the California and Nevada border? No, the movie filmed in Canada, which is very typical. Canada has a strong production network and incentive program and it has a lot of big trees--so does Lake Tahoe.

Who is the black girl in Bad Times at the El Royale? ›

When Cynthia Erivo signed on to play the singer Darlene Sweet in Bad Times at the El Royale, she didn't realize just how big her role was. She auditioned for Drew Goddard's crime thriller shortly after The Color Purple Broadway revival (which netted her a Daytime Emmy, a Tony, and a Grammy).

Has anyone been shot on a film set? ›

Brandon Lee, an actor and the son of the martial-arts star Bruce Lee, died in March 1993 during the filming of “The Crow,” after being shot at with a gun that was supposed to fire blank cartridges.

Who did Rose stab in El Royale? ›

He shoots Billy Lee in the head and then kills his cult members, along with two other members who were waiting outside. Rose cries over Billy Lee's body as Miles goes to apologize and comfort her. She grabs a knife and stabs Miles in the gut, and she is then shot dead by Flynn.

Is Bad Times at the El Royale a prequel? ›

Bad Times at the El Royale is a Cabin in the Woods Prequel.

What is the theme of the play the Royale? ›

It is a play that makes profound statements about belonging, identity and power in a deeply racialised society. It follows a black boxer by the name of Jay “The Sport” Jackson (Khris Davis), who wants to take on the ultimate defending champion who has recently retired.

What country is Villa Royale from? ›

Villa Royale is part of Machefert Group, a family hotel group present in Paris, Saint-Tropez and Marrakech.

What show is Royale high based on? ›

Royale High is a fantasy school roleplaying and dress-up game on Roblox. It utilizes the universes feature on the Roblox platform to play across various realms set in different environments. The game was originally called Fairies & Mermaids Winx High School, functioning as a Winx Club fan roleplay game.

Is there a hotel on the California Nevada border? ›

Cal Neva Resort & Casino, previously known as the Calneva Resort and Cal-Neva Lodge, is a resort and casino straddling the border between Nevada and California on the shores of Lake Tahoe.

Who has lived at the El Royale? ›

The El Royale has been known as a home for celebrities over the years, including Nicolas Cage, Huell Howser, Al Jolson, and George Raft. Scenes for Double Indemnity (1944) were filmed in the building's garage.

What hotel is the El Royale based off of? ›

Filming for the movie took place in January and February of 2018 in Vancouver and Burnaby, British Columbia, with production crews in Canada replicating the hotel of Crystal Bay. The real hotel on which screenwriter Drew Goddard based his script is the Cal Neva Lodge & Casino, which was built in 1926.

Who wrote and directed Bad Times at the El Royale? ›

Bad Times at the El Royale is a 2018 neo-noir thriller film written, directed, and produced by Drew Goddard, featuring an ensemble cast consisting of Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm, Cailee Spaeny, Lewis Pullman, and Chris Hemsworth.

Why was the FBI agent at the El Royale? ›

Dwight Broadbeck – is an FBI agent, that has gone to the hotel under the assumed name of Laramie Seymour Sullivan. Dwight has been sent to the hotel, under express orders, to find the compromising material that the owners had Miles record through the two-way mirror into one of the hotel rooms.

How much did Bad Times at the El Royale make? ›

Who owns the Villa Royale? ›

Owned and managed by a woman by the name of Evelyn Pell, family lore has it that the California ranch-style hotel took its name from the first initials of Evelyn's children — Valorie and Richard.

What hotel did bond stay at in Casino Royale? ›

Grandhotel Pupp was transformed into Hotel Splendide in Montenegro in the Bond film called Casino Royale. Right after the arrival in the station in "Montenegro" /Mill Colonnade/, James Bond goes to Hotel Splendide /Grandhotel Pupp/.

Is the hotel in Ocean's 13 real? ›

And while most of the film was shot on the Warner Brothers lot in Los Angeles (Stage 16B was turned into a giant casino floor), there are still glimpses of the real Vegas: the airport slots, the strip, and of course, the executive office of the fictional owner of the Bellagio, Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia).

When did Bad Times at the El Royale take place? ›

2018's Bad Times at The El Royale takes place in 1969, when four disparate strangers find themselves staying at the same hotel on the border between Nevada and California.

Where was the last scene filmed in Casino Royale? ›

Villa La Gaeta,San Siro, Lake Como, Italy ... This James Bond Villa is located next to Lake Como, in San Siro, Italy, surrounded by a beautiful park with paths, benches and a lit fountain. In the spring of 2006, the movie Casino Royale was filmed in front of this villa (the last scene of the movie when Bond meets Mr.

Where is the beach scene filmed in Casino Royale? ›

When Daniel Craig and his blue swim trunks emerge from the sea in 2006's Casino Royale, it is at the Ocean Club on Paradise Island. The beachfront Bahamian resort appears throughout the film: Bond is seen walking through the reception area after setting off all the car alarms in the parking lot, playing poker in […]

Who is the villain in Bad Times at the El Royale? ›

William "Billy" Lee is the main antagonist of the 2018 film Bad Times at the El Royale. He is the sadistic and charismatic leader of a depraved cult of murderous killers who preys on innocent people and lost souls to become his devoted followers.

Who is Auntie Ruth in Bad Times at the El Royale? ›

Bad Times at the El Royale (2018) - Katharine Isabelle as Auntie Ruth Pugh - IMDb.

What is the hardest job on a film set? ›

Job #4 Script supervisor

Certainly one of the most taxing and demanding job on a film crew. Starting a few weeks before the shoot, this is the person who breaks down the script and prepares it for the schedule. A script supervisor also notes own all the director's thoughts about how each scene is going to be shot.

Do movie sets ever use real bullets? ›

Some are rubber props (used for shots when actors are far in the distance) and others are airsoft guns that fire nonlethal pellets. Often, however, productions use real guns. Studios prefer to digitally create the actual firing in postproduction whenever possible.

Do they break real glass in movies? ›

Breakaway resin.

It's common now for stunt glass to be made from synthetic breakaway resins, which are a form of plastic. Breakaway resins are very brittle when solid, so they break just like real glass, except they're super fragile and unlikely to hurt a trained stunt actor.

What should I watch after knives? ›

Movies & TV
  • Knives Out (2019)
  • Bad Times at the El Royale (2018)
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
  • Murder on the Orient Express (2017)
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
  • Gone Girl (2014)
18 Oct 2022

Are both Casino Royale movies the same? ›

In particular, it's the two Casino Royale movies that show how differently a similar story can play out. Whilst James Bond has become one of modern media's most instantly recognisable characters, the difference between the Bond of the 1967 film and the 2006 movie couldn't be more marked.

Is there a post credit scene in Bad Times at the El Royale? ›

Unfortunately, Bad Times at the El Royale does not have a post-credits scene, which means the movie wraps up entirely before the credits start to roll.

How many James Bond Casino Royale movies are there? ›

Fun fact: Casino Royale has been filmed 3 times

There have been three versions of Casino Royale, all radically different. We've already gone over the Daniel Craig version, a strong contender for best and most definitive Bond movie ever.

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