Bad Times at the El Royale
Seven strangers and their secrets check into a shabby hotel.
“Aiming for style over substance is only a problem when you miss,” said Matthew Monagle in The Austin Chronicle. That’s why it’s easy to forgive the derivative elements in this “absolutely gorgeous” period noir thriller. When seven strangers with seven secrets check into a fading hotel on the Nevada-California border for a single night in 1969, you know all storylines will eventually converge, then start twisting. But it’s still fun to watch as Jon Hamm’s vacuum salesman, Jeff Bridges’ grizzled priest, Dakota Johnson’s femme fatale, and the other A-list guests reveal their true selves. “At its best, El Royale is wickedly suspenseful,” said Kyle Smith in National Review. But many of its isolated sequences are greater than the whole, which “turns out to be a pretty familiar chase-a-bag-of-money story.” Except that the surface story matters less than its allegorical resonances, said Alissa Wilkinson in Vox.com. The El Royale is clearly purgatory, “an existential crossroads” for seven characters headed either toward salvation or damnation. Given the movie’s wide-ranging ambitions, “it’s probably inevitable that some of it just doesn’t work.” Still, “even when it stumbles,” El Royale “feels like a deeply weird and wondrous accomplishment.” ■