The title promises “bad times” and that’s exactly what this film delivers. In saying that I am not criticizing Bad Times at the El Royale. It’s a well-made variation on the multiple perspective crime genre (think Pulp Fiction) and it will keep you guessing until the end as each character is introduced and additional information is gained from each new perspective. But while Quentin Tarantino mixed a fair bit of humour into Pulp Ficton’s dark brew, writer-director Drew Goddard’s El Royale is a long row of tequila shots without a chaser. It starts slowly but even then, right from the start, the tense atmosphere tells you that a lot of bad shit is coming.
The main events in Bad Times at the El Royale unfold over the course of one rainy night on the Nevada-California border. The El Royale is literally split in half by the state line, so the first challenge for each guest is to decide in which state they’d like to stay. Unfortunately, things have gone downhill at the El Royale ever since it lost its Nevada gaming licence, so the hotel is essentially deserted. Ringing the bell doesn’t summon the desk clerk; it takes several seconds of beating on the “staff only” door to wake him. Once he’s up, the guests are able to check in – there are four at first, and two more will show up before the night is done. Hardly any of the guests are what they seem, and only a couple of them will live long enough to check out in the morning.
While the movie doesn’t quite reach “classic” status, the solid premise and excellent cast still make this film worth watching. It’s absolutely packed with talent, as demonstrated by the always-excellent Nick Offerman being relegated to a blink-and-you’ll-miss it role (though he does get to do some woodworking, of sorts, so that was probably reason enough for him to sign on). Bad Times at the El Royale gave me a tense, suspenseful night chock full of hardboiled twists and turns, and that’s all I could have asked for before the sunrise.