"Surprisingly Powerful and Redemptive Thriller"
BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE is an intense thriller about five people who converge at a mysterious motel and literally fight for redemption as their secrets are exposed. BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE is a riveting, moving and surprisingly profound thriller with a strong Christian, evangelical worldview and fantastic ending, but it has lots of strong foul language and some bloody violence that warrant extreme caution.
These are tough times for rank and file Catholics, the faithful laity forced to endure one distressing headline after another about clerical sex scandals and attendant cover-ups. Meanwhile, evangelical Protestant Christians are also under attack by godless Cultural Marxists and atheists full of evil intent. Sometimes, however, positive reinforcement can come from the strangest places. BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE provides an often potent and touching reminder of the good that the vast majority of clergy and churches do in the world and, more importantly, the power of confession, repentance, forgiveness, and faith to bring peace, solace, forgiveness, and redemption to us all.
The movie opens in 1959 with some kind of criminal burying a bag of money under the floorboards of the El Royale, a hotel that sits directly on the state line dividing California and Nevada, near Lake Tahoe. After the man buries the money, another man enters and shoots the man dead.
Cut to 10 years later. The El Royale is long past the glory days when Dean Martin would stay there amid visits to Lake Tahoe. Four guests meet and sign in at the desk after they locate the clerk, a young man named Miles. Among the guests are an elderly priest named Father Daniel Flynn (Jeff Bridges), an African-American singer named Darlene (Cynthia Erivo), a mysterious and rude young woman named Emily (Dakota Johnson), and a Southern Baptist vacuum salesman named Laramie who’s actually an FBI agent (Jon Hamm). The priest makes friends with Darlene, who responds positively to him since she began her career by singing in a church choir. Laramie seems a bit slimy, but the movie soon reveals that he’s a typical FBI agent fulfilling some kind of assignment.
Father Flynn moves the carpet and bed in his room to search under the floorboards, but he finds nothing. Meanwhile, Laramie begins to place a wiretap on the phone in his room, but he finds another, older bug in the phone. As he searches the room, he finds multiple wiretap bugs. He also measures the inside and outside of his room, and the measurements don’t match.
Laramie takes the hotel’s master key behind the front desk and finds that Miles, the clerk who’s also the hotel bartender and caretaker, is a troubled heroin addict and is fast asleep in his office. Using the master key, Laramie discovers a secret hallway behind all the rooms, with a two-way mirror looking into each room and a movie camera nearby. Through the two-way mirrors, Laramie spies Darlene practicing her singing, the priest has been looking for something under the floorboards, and Emily is dragging an unconscious teenage girl into her room and tying her up in a chair. The girl, whose name is Rose, wakes up, and Emily promises her she will untie her and release her gag once she’s “clear.”
Laramie goes to the payphone to call his boss, J. Edgar Hoover. Hoover tells him to disable each person’s car so they don’t leave. He also orders Laramie to finish his mission of placing the FBI wiretaps and ignore Rose, the kidnapping victim, and forget about what the “priest” is doing. Laramie decides he can’t do that. After disabling the cars in the rain, he goes to stop Emily and free Rose, but things get out of control and violent mayhem breaks out.
Things go from bad to worse when a crazy cult leader and creep named Billy Lee (Chris Hemsworth), who’s looking for Emily and Rose, shows up with a few of his groupies, who are carrying weapons. During the earlier mayhem, Rose managed to call Billy Lee and tell him to come get her.
The ads and trailers for BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE make it appear that it might be a vastly different kind of movie, a Quentin Tarantino-style exploration of evil that wallows in shocking violence for laughs rather than any sense of redemption. The opposite, however, turns out to be true.
Though it does have some qualities that remind one of Tarantino’s movies, BAD TIMES has more on its mind. As a result, it turns out to be a riveting, emotionally powerful and surprisingly profound thriller with great character development and some terrific acting. Best of all, it has a very strong Christian worldview and a great ending showing the power of confession, repentance, forgiveness, and faith to bring peace, solace and redemption. The ending has the strongest Christian content than the rest of the movie, but positive Christian references occur throughout the movie. There’s even a strong reference to the Holy Trinity in the movie. Also, when Billy Lee shows up, the movie contrasts his relativistic beliefs that we can be our own gods with the Christian, biblical worldview of moral absolutes and possible salvation. One of the characters even says it’s “never too late” to find redemption and salvation.
Moviegoers can thank Writer/Director Drew Goddard for the movie’s strong Christian elements. A devout and outspoken Catholic, Goddard has made a huge splash in Hollywood over the past 15 years with his work on a wide variety of TV programs and movies, including LOST, THE MARTIAN, CABIN IN THE WOODS, and the first two CLOVERFIELD movies. Yet, while those were critically acclaimed hits, he has also put his Catholic faith front and center in the Netflix TV series DAREDEVIL, where the title character is a superhero who’s a practicing Catholic. Here, in BAD TIMES, he places unmistakable focus on Catholicism and Christianity’s evangelical message of redemption and salvation as a force for good.
The performances in this film are all first-rate, particularly Bridges as a man who has done bad things but rises to the occasion when given the chance to do good. Erivo is also outstanding as Darlene, particularly in a masterful six-minute sequence where she sings the pop classic “This Old Heart of Mine” a cappella to cover up the noise of Daniel tearing up the floor in search of the money bag as a sinister character watches through the mirror.
Goddard’s writing is crisp throughout, with a great sense of tension and a lot of darkly funny lines to go with its moments of dramatic power. He gives this 141-minute movie time to breathe and wrap audiences in its mysterious embrace with long but riveting scenes that are often quiet before exploding into whiplash bursts of noisy action.
That said, BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE is rated R for at least 31 obscenities, several strong profanities, explosive moments of bloody violence, and briefly implied references to abuse of children and teenagers. MOVIEGUIDE® advises extreme caution for BAD TIMES, despite its ability to present a moving, redemptive Christian message in an exciting thriller format that includes compelling character development.
(CCC, BBB, Pa, Ab, FR, LLL, VVV, S, N, A, DD, MM):
BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE is an intense thriller about two men and two women who converge at a mysterious resort hotel and literally fight for redemption as their secrets are exposed. One of them is a Catholic priest. Another is an FBI agent posing as a vacuum cleaner salesman. The agent finds some old wiretap bugs in his room while he’s placing some FBI wiretaps there. He also finds a hidden hallway with two-way mirrors into the rooms. The agent spies one of the women has kidnapped a teenage girl and tied her up. Against orders, he decides to do something about it, and all mayhem breaks loose.
BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE is a riveting, moving, surprisingly profound thriller with great character development and acting. Even better, it has a very strong Christian, biblical and even evangelical worldview with a fantastic ending. There’s even an emotionally powerful confession scene showing it’s never too late to repent and receive forgiveness. However, the movie has 31 obscenities, seven strong profanities, explosive scenes of bloody violence, and a creepy, abusive cult leader. MOVIEGUIDE® advises extreme caution.