By Kathy Flynn
Jeff Bridges, Jon Hamm, and Cynthia Erivo in "Bad Times at the El Royale"
Photo credit: Kimberley French - © TM & © 2018 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved.
Drew Goddard has worked on a lot of my favorite things. He came on board Buffy the Vampire Slayer for the final season, writing 5 episodes including the award-winning "Conversations with Dead People." He followed that up with
Angel's final season, moved on to
Lost, created the
Daredevil tv show for Netflix, and is currently executive producing
The Good Place. He wrote the first
Cloverfield movie, and co-wrote and directed
Cabin in the Woods, a film I love so much that I can and do watch it over and over again. So when I saw that he had a new film coming out, I had huge expectations. And once again, Goddard has not let me down.
Bad Times at the El Royale is a crime thriller set in 1969 in a hotel on the border between California and Nevada. The state line runs straight down the middle, so you can stay in either state, although California costs a $1 more a night. The hotel itself, seedy and near abandoned, is a mid-century marvel that has fallen on hard times; a few steps above a roadside motel, with delightful vintage touches including a jukebox and automat. Seven strangers end up there, each holding a secret. And the El Royale might have a dark secret or two of its own.
The cast is a dream cast. We first meet Jon Hamm as vacuum cleaner salesman Laramie Seymour Sullivan, Dakota Johnson as Emily Summerspring, a hippie chick with attitude, Lewis Pullman's Miles, the hotel's sole employee, and Jeff Bridges as Father Daniel Flynn, a performance so nuanced, so lovely, so multi-faceted that it may be the crown jewel on his incredible body of work. And yet, the real luminary here is Broadway's Cynthia Erivo, a Tony-winning actress who's name will be on everyone's lips after this star-making turn. Her Darlene Sweet is a 60s girl group singer looking for a better life, and she is the heart and soul of this picture.
Chris Hemsworth in "Bad Times at the El Royale"
Photo credit: Kimberley French - © TM & © 2018 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved. The story unpeels like an onion, revealing layer upon layer upon layer. Characters that at first seem familiar morph into something else entirely. There's a lot of Tarantino in this film, particularly
The Hateful Eight, which similarly brings a group of disparate travelers together into one location to tell a story full of unexpected turns. Goddard used audience expectations to similarly twist the plot in
Cabin in the Woods, creating something at once familiar and deliciously unexpected, and
El Royale continues that trend delightfully. The first act brings most of the characters together, while the second act explores their backstories. In the third act, all hell breaks loose with the arrival of Chris Hemsworth's Billy Lee, equal parts menace and mesmerizing sex appeal. It's a bold performance, deeper and darker than Hemsworth has gone before and you cannot take your eyes off of him when he's on screen.
I don't know if it's too early to name this my favorite film of the year, but I really doubt that something will come along to beat this. It's utterly fantastic, and Bridges and Erivo both give Oscar-worthy performances. The visuals and set design are exceptional and Michael Giaccino's score expertly accentuates the suspense. All of the music in this film is wonderful, and I fully plan on picking up the soundtrack the minute it's released. Go into this film knowing as little as possible and give yourself over to the journey, at this point, I would trust Goddard to take me anywhere.
Bad Times at the El Royale opens Oct 12.
Bad Times at the El Royale was written and directed by Drew Goddard and stars Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm, Cailee Spaeny, Lewis Pullman and Chris Hemsworth.