Bad Times at the El Royale (4 stars)

Bad Times at the El Royale

Charismatic performances and zippy dialogue power Drew Goddard's pulp thriller, featuring Chris Hemsworth

From Psycho's Bates Motel, the Overlook in The Shining, to Hotel Earle in Barton Fink, the hotel has always been an attractive backdrop for filmmakers. And so it goes for ex Buffy writer Drew Goddard, who follows his innovative horror The Cabin in the Woods with 60s-set pulp thriller Bad Times at the El Royale. A rundown Lake Tahoe guest house, one that straddles California and Nevada state lines, the El Royale provides the perfect setting for this tale of skulduggery.

Four guests arrive right off the bat: Father Daniel Flynn (Jeff Bridges), singer Darlene Sweet (Cynthia Erivo), salesman Laramie Seymour Sullivan (Jon Hamm) and mystery girl Emily Summerspring (Dakota Johnson). They're all checking in for different reasons, although when it emerges that a bag of stolen money has been languishing under the floorboards of one room it gets all of their attention.

Privacy is not a given at the El Royale, with all the rooms fitted with two-way mirrors and Lewis Pullman's concierge Miles instructed to record any underhand goings-on. This voyeuristic environment soon gives rise to suspicion, with just about everybody packing secrets in their suitcases and working under false identities. Events are replayed from different perspectives, as Goddard makes us re-examine what we think we saw.

If the film takes its time to unfold, it really ramps up with the arrival of Billy Lee, a charismatic cult leader played by Chris Hemsworth, who adds real zing to the final act. Indeed, from Hamm's verbose seller to Erivo's soulful songstress, this is a film blessed with dynamic performers, who relish Goddard's zippy dialogue and the deadly game of chess, as their characters try and outmanoeuvre each other. It may not be as genre-bending as its predecessor Cabin, but it's an atmospheric and air-tight noir.

General release from Fri 12 Oct.

Bad Times at the El Royale

  • 4 stars
  • 2018
  • US
  • Directed by: Drew Goddard
  • Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Jeff Bridges, Jon Hamm
  • UK release: 12 October 2018

Four guests (Bridges, Hamm, Erivo, Johnson) check into a Lake Tahoe guest house for different reasons; but there’s a bag of stolen money under the floorboards. This 60s-set pulp thriller may not be as genre-bending as Goddard’s earlier The Cabin in the Woods, but it’s an atmospheric and airtight noir.