Though he may only appear in the film for 20 or so minutes, Chris Hemsworth is the key to Bad Times at the El Royale. Without being able to plaster his face and permanent shirtlessness onto every piece of marketing, there’s no way that this fantastic slice of niche genre cinema would have got the budget it needed to be as great as it is.
A classic, rain-slicked ‘60s noir, mixed with an And Then There Were None-esque single-location murder mystery, El Royale strands seven wildcards in its titular motel for a long night of deception and simmering tension. The guests’ cars aren’t working and the raging storm outside means no one is walking anywhere.
Everyone in the cast is great, but the highlights are Jeff Bridges as a conman priest and Cynthia Erivo as singer Darlene Sweet. Both deliver sensational performances within their deeply satisfying character arcs, Erivo in particular getting one monologue that will stick with you for a long time. Hemsworth is a lot of fun when he arrives, and more layered than you might initially assume.
Drew Goddard’s script is packed with surprises, every character weaving in and out of the central story in clever, exciting ways, and his direction is more than solid, especially with the violence, which is consistently sharp and shocking and over as soon as it’s started. There might be a few too many detours along the way, but, mostly, this is a tightly wound thriller that enthrals and entertains from start to finish.
Thrillingly original, we hope that El Royale finds the large audience it deserves. In a sea of sequels, it’s something grown-up and fresh – the exact film people ask for and then never end up seeing. More fool them, this is a smashing time at the cinema.
CAST: Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm, Chris Hemsworth, Lewis Pullman, Cailee Spaeny
DIRECTOR: Drew Goddard
WRITER: Drew Goddard
SYNOPSIS: Seven strangers, each with a secret to bury, meet at Lake Tahoe’s El Royale, a rundown hotel with a dark past. Over the course of one fateful night, everyone will have a last shot at redemption – before everything goes to hell.