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“Bad Times at the El Royale” — a morbid mystery that’s a little messed up

courtesy of IMDb

courtesy of IMDb

Trevor Tyle, Life Editor

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If there’s one thing to take away from Drew Goddard’s new film, “Bad Times at the El Royale,” it’s that the fictional El Royale hotel is one place you do not want to visit.

Set in 1969, the film follows seven strangers whose lives are changed—or ended—forever when they cross paths at the mysterious El Royale hotel, located on the California/Nevada border.

Among the guests are Father Daniel Flynn (Jeff Bridges), struggling singer Darlene Sweet (Cynthia Erivo), vacuum cleaner salesman Seymour “Laramie” Sullivan (Jon Hamm), hotel concierge Miles Miller (Lewis Pullman) and criminal sisters Emily and Rose Summerspring (Dakota Johnson and Cailee Spaeny, respectively).

But here’s the twist—most of these guests are not who they say they are, and their dirty little secrets all quickly become intertwined into one convoluted thrillride.

Unfortunately, if you’re convinced that this is going to be a fun little murder mystery movie like “Clue” or even “Murder on the Orient Express,” you are so wrong. This movie has some pacing issues in the beginning, but once it does pick up, it gets insanely intense.

“Bad Times at the El Royale” is not for the faint of heart. I can only assume a good chunk of this film was intended to pay homage to Quentin Tarantino’s inexplicable infatuation with violence, because this is one incredibly morbid film. There’s lots of blood, guts and people getting shot in the head—so, basically, a Tarantino film.

Aside from the unnecessary gruesomeness of the film on a visual level, it takes some pretty dark thematic turns as well. The third act introduces Chris Hemsworth—who, in spite of playing the most disturbed character in the entire film, is just as delightful—and it goes without saying that he’s not playing the god of thunder this time around. Instead, Hemsworth has taken on the role of a psychotic cult leader named Billy Lee. Though he’s introduced rather late into the film, making his appearance seem somewhat forced, it’s a refreshing change for the middle Hemsworth brother, who even ditches his accent in favor of an American one for the role.

Hemsworth isn’t the only one who stepped up his game for “Bad Times at the El Royale,” though. Johnson, known for her leading role in the “Fifty Shades” film series, offers one of her most mature performances to date, while Pullman knocks it out of the park as the scrawny and meek hotel concierge, who appears to be the only employee on the premises.

But Bridges and Erivo really steal the show. While Bridges’ veteran actor status makes it unsurprising that he kills it, quite literally, Erivo has a rather limited list of acting credits under her belt. “Bad Times at the El Royale” is only her second feature film, as she is primarily known for theatre work—she won the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical in 2016 for “The Color Purple.” But she serves as the emotional weight of the film, and is pretty much the only character you probably won’t hate by the end of it. She even has the opportunity to showcase her phenomenal vocal chops.

Even though it’s not a musical, the music of “Bad Times at the El Royale” is one of its strongest offerings. To compliment Erivo’s lovely singing is Michael Giacchino’s work on the film’s score. Instantly recognizable in the best way, Giacchino helps to build the suspense and terror this film strives to achieve.

Overall, “Bad Times at the El Royale” is far from a perfect film. But it’s a solid mystery/thriller that serves its purpose, leaving audiences on the edge of their seats for its entire two-hour runtime—and beyond.

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

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