Bad Times at the El Royale
Bad Times at the El Royale is a 2018 neo-noir thriller film written, produced and directed by Drew Goddard. The film stars Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm, Cailee Spaeny, Lewis Pullman and Chris Hemsworth. Set in 1969, the plot follows seven strangers each hiding dark secrets, who come to a head one night in a shady hotel on the California-Nevada border.
|Bad Times at the El Royale|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Drew Goddard|
|Written by||Drew Goddard|
|Music by||Michael Giacchino|
|Edited by||Lisa Lassek|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|Box office||$31.9 million|
Bad Times at the El Royale premiered at Fantastic Fest on September 27, 2018, and was theatrically released in the United States on October 12, 2018. Although a box office failure, grossing $31 million worldwide against its $32 million budget, it received mixed to positive reviews from critics, with praise for its acting and Goddard's direction, but criticism for the runtime and pacing.
In 1959, in the aftermath of a robbery gone awry, a crook hides a bag of money inside the floorboards of a hotel room. After successfully hiding the cash, he is double-crossed by one of his accomplices and killed.
Ten years later, Catholic priest Daniel Flynn, singer Darlene Sweet, salesman Laramie Seymour Sullivan, and hippie Emily Summerspring arrive at the El Royale hotel at the California-Nevada border, popular with Hollywood and political elite until losing its gambling license. They meet the hotel's only remaining employee, Miles Miller.
Upon checking into his room, Sullivan removes wire taps from the honeymoon suite and finds a secret corridor from which guest's rooms can be observed via two-way mirrors and filmed via a 16mm camera setup. From the corridor, Sullivan sees Emily committing an apparent kidnapping. It is revealed that he is FBI Special Agent Dwight Broadbeck, on assignment to remove FBI surveillance from the hotel; he is instructed to ignore the kidnapping and to prevent the guests from leaving until the surveillance materials are secured.
Flynn invites Sweet to join him for dinner. She sees him spiking her drink and knocks him unconscious with a bottle. Miller finds and revives Flynn, then shows him the secret passageway, explaining that "management" regularly had him film guests' intimate encounters and send the footage to them. Miller admits having withheld one incriminating film of a deceased public figure who had been kind to him. When Flynn leaves to evaluate the film, Miller witnesses through the two-way mirror Agent Broadbeck attempting to rescue Emily's hostage, who is revealed to be Emily's younger sister, Rose. Emily opens fire, killing Broadbeck, and accidentally brutalizing half of Miller's face with buckshot. Emily interrogates Miller about the surveillance operation. It is revealed that Emily forcibly removed her sister from a murderous cult in California led by Billy Lee, a lecherous and sadistic but charismatic figure. Emily is disappointed to learn that Rose has called Lee to the El Royale.
Sweet, who has witnessed Broadbeck's murder, attempts to escape, but to no avail. Flynn arrives and reveals that he is a criminal named Dock O'Kelly, imprisoned for the robbery in 1959. Recently paroled, he returned to the El Royale in priest garb to retrieve the money that had been hidden there before; his brother Felix was the robber who was double-crossed and killed. Due to O'Kelly's failing memory, he picked the wrong room and discovered the money was not there. Believing it to be in Sweet's room, he had attempted to drug her simply to gain access to her room. Withholding knowledge that he is in possession of the film, O'Kelly offers to split the cash with Sweet. O'Kelly and Sweet shelter their ulterior motives from Emily, as she begins to investigate the premises while O'Kelly retrieves the money.
As O'Kelly and Sweet attempt to leave with the money, Lee and his cult arrive and take them, Emily, and Miller hostage. Lee finds the money and the film, which he realizes is worth more than the money. Beginning to terrorize the group, Lee kills Emily playing a life-or-death game of roulette between her and Miller. Before Lee completes another roulette round between O'Kelly and Sweet, O'Kelly attacks Lee and a melee ensues. When Sweet implores Miller to pick up a gun and help, he reveals that he served in Vietnam as a U.S.-military sniper and killed 123 people. A defiant Miller kills Lee and his followers to save O'Kelly. A distraught Rose stabs Miller, then is shot by O'Kelly. Before Miller dies, Sweet tells "Father Flynn" to absolve Miller of the guilt over his actions in Vietnam. O'Kelly complies. O'Kelly and Sweet retrieve the money, Sweet tosses the film into the fire, and the pair leaves the hotel.
The next night, Flynn attends Darlene's jazz performance in Reno as her only apparent friend.
- Jeff Bridges as Father Daniel Flynn/Dock O'Kelly, an ex-con masquerading as a Catholic priest
- Cynthia Erivo as Darlene Sweet, a struggling soul singer who finds herself in the wrong place at the wrong time
- Dakota Johnson as Emily Summerspring, a hippie trying to save her sister from Billy Lee's cult
- Jon Hamm as Laramie Seymour Sullivan/Dwight Broadbeck, an undercover FBI agent posing as a vacuum cleaner salesman
- Chris Hemsworth as Billy Lee, a charismatic but lecherous and sadistic cult leader
- Cailee Spaeny as Rose Summerspring, Emily's younger sister, still devoted to Billy Lee
- Lewis Pullman as Miles Miller, the hotel clerk and sole employee left at the El Royale, formerly a sniper in the Vietnam War
- Nick Offerman as Felix O'Kelly, Dock's brother and criminal partner
- Xavier Dolan as Buddy Sunday, a music producer who fires Darlene for refusing to sleep with him
- Shea Whigham as Dr. Woodbury Laurence, a prison doctor who diagnoses O'Kelly
- Mark O'Brien as Larsen Rogers, Dock and Felix's accomplice
- Charles Halford as Sammy Wilds, Dock's prison cellmate
- Jim O'Heir as Milton Wyrick, the presenter at Darlene's show in Reno
On March 8, 2017, it was announced that 20th Century Fox had bought the spec script Bad Times at the El Royale, written by Drew Goddard, who would also direct and produce the film. On August 23, 2017, Chris Hemsworth and Jeff Bridges were cast in the 1960s-set film, to play two among the several characters who collide at the El Royale hotel, near California's Lake Tahoe. That same day, it was also reported that Tom Holland had passed on a role, and that Beyoncé was being courted for the role of a Black vocalist. It was also revealed that main roles in the ensemble would include a vacuum cleaner salesman, two female criminals, a male cult leader, and a desk clerk. Later in August 2017, newcomer Cailee Spaeny was added to the cast to play an impressionable Southern girl brought to the hotel, while Cynthia Erivo was cast as the Black singer who finds herself in the wrong place at the wrong time. In January 2018, Dakota Johnson and Russell Crowe joined the cast (though Crowe did not appear in the film). In February 2018, Jon Hamm, Nick Offerman, and Mark O'Brien joined the cast, and in May 2018, Lewis Pullman was also confirmed for a role.
Principal photography on the film began on January 29, 2018 in Vancouver, British Columbia. In February, it was being shot in Burnaby. The El Royale is quite similar in appearance and characteristics to a closed former hotel-casino called the Cal Neva Lodge & Casino.
The score for Bad Times at the El Royale was composed by Michael Giacchino over August 15–16, 2018 at the Newman Scoring Stage at 20th Century Fox Studios. The score was released, as a Digital Download and CD, by Milan Records on October 12, 2018. A separate soundtrack edition, featuring songs from the movie was digitally released by Republic Records, without a physical CD release. Director Goddard described the movie as "a love letter to music", and considered the original songs as "reflect[ing] the smoky film noir spirit" of the movie, the soundtrack assembles jazz, doo wop and fifties and sixties staples as its period songs by artists including The Four Preps, Edwin Starr, Frankie Valli, The Crystals, The Mamas & The Papas, Four Tops, The American Breed, Deep Purple & more. The digital version of the soundtrack was later updated to include two of the songs performed in the movie by Cynthia Erivo: "This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak for You)" and "Hold On, I'm Coming".
Although not included on the soundtrack, Erivo also performed the songs "Try A Little Tenderness", "What Becomes of the Broken Hearted" and "Unchained Melody". Director Goddard also self-penned a song for Erivo to perform, titled "Hold Me In Your Arms, Lift Me On High". Erivo was required to sing on camera in real-time, with no option to use pre-recorded vocals: "Every time you see me sing in a room, wherever, it’s happening in that room and I’m singing for real", Erivo explained later. For the long scene where Laramie discovers the secret passageway, retakes and resets for different camera angles required Erivo to perform twenty-seven times, while the later scene where Darlene is singing to cover the noise Doc makes while digging was shot twenty times.
The first trailer was released on June 7, 2018. The film had its world premiere at Fantastic Fest on September 27, 2018 and also screened at the San Sebastián International Film Festival. It was theatrically released in the United States on October 12, 2018.
Bad Times at the El Royale grossed $17.8 million in the United States and Canada, and $13.7 million in other territories, for a total worldwide gross of $31.5 million, against a production budget of $32 million.
In the United States and Canada, Bad Times at the El Royale was released alongside First Man and Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween, and was projected to gross $8–12 million from 2,808 theaters in its opening weekend, with some predictions going as high as $17 million. The film made $2.8 million on its first day and went on to debut to $7.2 million, finishing seventh at the box office. Deadline Hollywood speculates the film was hurt by its 141-minute runtime, as well as its niche genre and lack of awards buzz. The film dropped 52% in its second weekend to $3.4 million, finishing ninth.
On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 75% based on 232 reviews, with an average rating of 6.67/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Smart, stylish, and packed with solid performances, Bad Times at the El Royale delivers pure popcorn fun with the salty tang of social subtext." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 60 out of 100, based on 43 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B–" on an A+ to F scale.
Randy Cordova, in a review for the Arizona Republic, wrote "El Royal feels like a Quentin Tarantino film, even though it’s not. It boasts a lot of the director's signature touches: There are jarring bursts of graphic violence, a retro soundtrack and title cards throughout. Plus, like a lot of Tarantino films, it runs about 30 minutes too long. But hey, if you’re going to pay homage, there are worse ways to go."
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