Bad Times at the El Royale

First Hit: An oddly strange, yet engaging, film.

The El Royale is a hotel that is split down the middle between the Nevada and California borders. There is a red line that runs through the parking lot and through the middle of the lobby with some rooms in Nevada and the remaining rooms in California. The rooms in California are more expensive because they’re in California.

Father Daniel Flynn (Jeff Bridges) arrives just as Darlene Sweet (Cynthia Erivo) is parking her car. He introduces himself and assists her carrying two very large blanket covered foam rolls into the lobby.

In the lobby we have Laramie Seymour Sullivan (Jon Hamm) waiting for someone to come to the front desk so that he can check in. The three of them make some light chatter until Darlene bangs on a door and out comes Miles Miller (Lewis Pullman) who is the desk clerk and appearing to be the only hotel employee.

They each select a room. In the rooms each person does something that tells you why they’re at the El Royale. Sullivan is removing bugs previously planted there by the FBI. Flynn is really a bank robber from years ago and his partner brother stashed a bag full of money under the floor of a room. Sweet is there with foam to cover the walls so she can practice singing before heading to Reno for a gig. And Miller? He's a junkie.

The El Royale has a single access hallway behind all the rooms. Miller can view and listen in to each room from this hallway. For sound there is a switch under a one-way mirror that is in each room. There is a camera and we learn that Miller used this camera to film people for blackmail purposes.

However, Sullivan learns of this secret hallway and watches, through the one-way mirror, as Emily Summerspring (Dakota Johnson) checks into one of the rooms dragging her sister Rose (Cailee Spaeny). Tying her sister up in a chair, he’s puzzled.

Rose gets away and calls her cult leader boyfriend Billy Lee (Chris Hemsworth) who is a Charles Manson like leader that pontificates what he believes to be the truth. He drives up to collect Rose and find out why Emily kidnapped his prize pupil.

With all seven players engage, the story is about how everyone learns about each other’s reason for being at the El Royale.

Bridges is good as Father Flynn. However, the voice he uses is much like the voice he used for Hell or High Water. It’s sort of a gruff slurring voice that isn’t pleasing at all. Hamm is, at times, hilarious playing up the role as traveling salesman. Pullman is wonderful as the only hotel employee who is looking for absolution for the horrible things he’s done in life. Erivo is fantastic as the singer who is also clearly on her path with purpose. She suffers no fools and I enjoyed her singing – a lot. Hemsworth was strong as the cult leader who felt empowered by his good looks and charisma. Johnson was excellent as the protective sister who wanted to steer Rose away from Billy Lee’s clutches. Spaeny was excellent as the younger sister caught up in Billy Lee’s belief system and his good looks. Drew Goddard wrote and directed this film. His story was oddly interesting and engaging and use of 1960’s music was sublime.

Overall: It was interesting how the disparate reasons for each person in this ensemble  to be at the El Royale worked into a single storyline.