Movie review: Bad Times at the El Royale

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The poster for the new movie “Bad Times at the El Royale” depicts all seven of the movie’s main characters. Photo courtesy of 20th century Fox.

Rest assured, despite the insinuating title, you will not have a bad time watching “Bad Times at the El Royale.”  Directed by Drew Goddard, the man behind the hit Matt Damon movie “The Martian,” this movie traces an intricate plot line of seven characters, all of whom, either by chance or design, spend one stormy night in a small hotel that straddles the border of California and Nevada.  

Many famous actors were cast in this movie, including Chris Hemsworth, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm and Jeff Bridges. The beginning of the film is ambiguous and intriguing, allowing the audience to follow the plot but not offering immediate explanations for the action. As it progresses, the audience is gradually given clues to what the seven main character’s motivations are. The plot’s many layers resemble the aesthetic of a murder mystery, with clues and surprises around every corner; however, rather than discovering the murderer, the mystery lies in everyone’s life stories, and how they were brought to the El Royale.

Throughout the first hour, I was utterly confused — and my confusion continued throughout a significant portion of the film. The story does not follow one main protagonist, and thus there is no singular story to follow. There are seven main characters, all of which have both negative and redeeming qualities, though to varying degrees; however, they all have one thing in common: their humanity.

This movie seeks to flush out different sects of humanity — people who have gone through immense strife, whether in war times, domestically or career-wise. The film’s cinematography increases the dramatic effect of the scenes, especially the tense ones. Throughout the movie, there are extensive and intensive backstory scenes, revealing to the audience the characters’ respective backstories, what they want and why they want it.

The film humanizes everyone, explicating the emotional or logistical reasonings behind each character’s decisions and actions. At the end of the movie, the audience is even able to sympathize with the main antagonist, who inflicts fear on the other characters; likewise, the character who displays the most integrity is revealed to be completely flawed. This creates an intense internal conflict within the audience, as the twofold nature of each character makes it difficult to decide for whom one should be rooting.

It is a wild ride of unsettling and contradictory events, but I at least made it out alive. If you’re interested in a film that will play with your mind as well as your heart, see “Bad Times at the El Royale.

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