Bad Times at the El Royale is a well-written story of redemption and damnation with a lot of killing and swearing and a ton of suspense, where surprising things happen from the get-go, placing us on the edge of our seats. The acting is superb by everyone, and the twists and turns are fun and revealing: I expected the guilty to be innocent and vice versa; in fact, even the innocent are guilty in this film.
At one point, Jeff Bridge’s character, (Father Daniel Flynn) expresses that everyone has done bad and falls short, but there is forgiveness, and it is never too late. True to life, people’s stories, like the ones in this film, usually do hold surprises. Hence, the directorial choice to show the same things happen from various points of view, which also highlights the fact that there are gradations of sin, is fitting. Those in power take advantage of the weaker and everyone is a victim of circumstance, so when a confession finally takes place, it is shocking.
Interestingly, during the long night’s stay at this odd hotel, the seven misfits, who are all strangers to one another, carry out their individual agendas, while they all seem to be in an ongoing discussion about absolution of sin and who is innocent, if anyone. Cynthia Erivo (Darlene Sweet) does some beautiful singing and is fascinating to watch, while Dakota Johnson (Emily Summerspring) shows some real depth. It is intriguing to watch how these characters get entangled in one another’s troubles. The ones who hold true and deep principles of right and wrong and are willing to sacrifice for others when it comes to the most grave of situations are the ones who find a way out.
The end, a hellish scene with a heavenly theme where these two notions are so intricately woven together that it is almost impossible to discern which is which, is surprisingly meaningful. Additionally, the use of the modern- day suspense/thriller genre, at times playful and experimental in its camera work and the way in which the narrative unfolds, adds to its unique effect and dense message. The direction and production design are also captivating for the highly stylized playfulness of this film.
The Dove Take
Though this movie is at times horrific and graphic, with a particular take on the twisted tendencies of people for personal gain, the way in which individuals take it upon themselves to help save the soul of one of the greatest victims of the story is, indeed, heroic, and the overall message about redemption and forgiveness is profound.
Due to extreme violence and profane language, Dove is unable to award Bad Times at the El Royale the Dove-Approved Seal.