Bad Times at the El Royale

In Cinemas Now

Jeff Bridges, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm and Chris Hemsworth feature in this ensemble thriller set at a rundown Lake Tahoe hotel. Oscar nominee Drew Goddard (The Cabin in the Woods) writes and directs.

Seven strangers, each with a secret to bury, meet at a rundown Lake Tahoe hotel with a dark past. Over the course of the night, everyone will have one last shot at redemption - before everything goes to hell.

Set in the disenchanted late 1960s, Bad Times at the El Royale splits its narrative between the four shady characters who each converge at the motel of the same name one rainy night: down on her luck lounge singer Darlene (Cynthia Erivo); unsavoury salesman Seymour (Jon Hamm); a doddery old priest (Jeff Bridges); and a femme fatale hippie doing her best to remain anonymous (Dakota Johnson).

With each guest keen to go to their separate rooms and do mysterious things, all is clearly not what it seems—not least for the motel itself which, situated square on the state line between Nevada and California, appears to have fallen on hard times and is manned by a single haunted bellhop named Miles.

Much like director Drew Goddard’s genre-bending take on horror in The Cabin in the Woods, Bad Times at The El Royale is a wry, self-reflexive and tightly wound rendition of noir which, for the first two thirds, expertly and stylishly unravels its mysteries. Steeped in the anxieties of Nixon-era 1960s politics and popular culture and reveling in the retro-kitsch of its mise-en-scène, Bad Times at the El Royale sets off to a great start—making it all the more frustrating when it so profoundly loses momentum.

With the introduction of another key character, a solid amount of the previously free-flowing runtime is suddenly devoted to clunky exposition, botching the crescendo and testing viewer patience. Divvied up into chapters with title cards, a quiet yet discernible groan could even be heard through the audience when, with things seemingly wrapping up, the final one appeared.

Despite this failure to deliver on the promises of its much better earlier acts, Bad Times at the El Royale stands as a stylish and solid ensemble thriller that, for anyone with a thing for the 60’s, has plenty to enjoy—it’s just a shame it couldn’t have been half an hour shorter.

Empire (UK)

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A beautifully staged film with everything is in its place, this is both an affectionate homage and a timely commentary, falling only slightly short of its own ambition. Classy pulp fiction.

Hollywood Reporter

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More of a slog than it has any right to be, the artifice turned up so high that it overwhelms the story instead of igniting it.

Total Film (UK)

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Bags of fun. Goddard and his cast have a riot in a thriller that dances to its own beat.

Variety (USA)

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"Bad Times" isn't very good.

NZ Herald (Dominic Corry)

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A strong cast helps this Tarantino-esque thriller patch over its more disappointing qualities.

Rolling Stone

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Set in a 1969 Vegas hotel, Drew Goddard's retro whatzit could have been creepier, wittier, sharper and had a payoff that actually paid off, but there are enough twisted delights (yay, Cynthia Erivo!) to make you consider checking in.

FilmInk (Australia)

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The performances are superb, the direction sublime, and the soundtrack to kill for.

Los Angeles Times

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The standout is Erivo, who will next be seen in Steve McQueen's thriller "Widows" and whose performance here is revelatory in the most rewarding sense.

Stuff.co.nz (Graeme Tuckett)

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With a sharper and cleverer pair of hands in the edit suite, and maybe a critical friend to really interrogate the screenplay, I reckon Bad Times at the El Royale could have joined the classics Goddard is so obviously in thrall of.

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This was so good. Great setting, the whole dynamics of being on a state line was cool. The chapters with the flashbacks kept twisting the story in another direction... nothing is what you think. And Chris Hemsworth without a shirt is something awesome :) Great performances from all the cast... and Cynthia Erivo's voice is just wow! Loved the music all through the movie.