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Film / Bad Times at the El Royale

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Bad Times at the El Royale is a 2018 crime drama thriller from writer-director Drew Goddard. Set in California during the late 1960s, it follows seven strangers who meet at the hotel/motel El Royale, each with their own agenda. They include a priest (Jeff Bridges), a lounge singer (Cynthia Erivo), a vacuum salesman (Jon Hamm), two sisters (Dakota Johnson and Cailee Spaeny), the hotel's sole employee (Lewis Pullman), and a cult leader (Chris Hemsworth).


This film provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Emily and Rose's father abused them, with the implication that Emily took the worst of it to protect Rose.
  • Affectionate Nickname: Billy Lee endearingly refers to Rose as "Boots" due to her unique footwear.
  • Alas, Poor Villain:
    • Emily, whether you view her as such or not, did everything she did in desperation to save Rose from Billy Lee and it ultimately wasn’t enough in the end when she’s killed and Rose has almost no reaction to it.
    • Rose is a victim of abuse and later falls under the sway of a cult leader, which turns her into a remorseless and sadistic murderer.
  • All There in the Manual: Characters like O'Kelly's inmate, Billy Lee's followers, and the host at Darlene's Reno show are not named in the film, but are given first, last, and even nicknames in the credits.
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  • Always Save the Girl: Sullivan is somewhere between this and Chronic Hero Syndrome. Despite explicit orders not to, he goes in to try and interrupt what he perceives to be a kidnapping. He gets killed for it.
  • The Atoner: Miles frequently seeks out Flynn (who is dressed like a priest) to beg for forgiveness for sins he has committed.
  • Avenging the Villain: Rose fatally stabs Miles after he shoots Billy Lee dead. Flynn in turn kills Rose as well.
  • Battle Amongst the Flames: The big fight at the climax ends up setting the hotel on fire.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Averted.
    • Emily gets a real ugly shiner once Billy Lee shows up.
    • Billy Lee gets punched into a brazier by Flynn, and has a swollen face and several burn scars on his body.
  • Because You Were Nice to Me: The reason Miles never sent the blackmail film to his bosses: the unnamed subject was otherwise a decent person. Considering the kind of clientele Miles usually gets and the awful things he's seen in the rooms, the simple kindness and human decency the man showed convinced Miles that he didn't deserve to be blackmailed like this.
  • Bestiality Is Depraved: Miles tells Emilly that he's seen a lot of things he wishes he hadn't during his time spying on guests at the El Royale, such as a man who brought a live wolf into his room with him. He didn't exactly have sex with it... but it wasn't not sexual.
  • Big Bad: Billy Lee doesn't get directly involved in the plot until fairly late, but as soon as he does all other conflicts are brought to a screeching halt as the remaining guests have to team up against him. Even before that, though, his influence over Rose plays a major role in the story overall.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Flynn and Darlene make it out of the El Royale with the money Flynn's brother hid, and he goes to watch her perform in Reno, but still, numerous people died due to the chaos that went down at the hotel.
  • Bluff the Eavesdropper: Darlene puts on a performance of singing and clapping to obscure Flynn prying up the floorboards in her room from the observation mirror.
  • Boom, Headshot!: Miles takes out Billy Lee and several of his followers by shooting them in the head, to demonstrate his deadly accuracy with a gun.
  • Bound and Gagged: Sullivan discovers Emily has Rose bound to a chair and gagged in her room. Later on, Billy Lee has most of the surviving characters bound to chairs in the hotel lounge. When Miles won't stop begging Flynn to absolve him, he has him gagged.
  • Bulletproof Human Shield: Averted. When Emily shoots Broadbeck with a shotgun at point blank range, the shot goes right through him and the two-way mirror behind him and injure Miles.
  • Cacophony Cover Up: Darlene uses her singing and clapping to cover up the sound of Flynn pulling up the floorboards in her room.
  • The Cameo: Nick Offerman appears onscreen for about seven minutes, and he spends four of those in a mask.
  • Camera Abuse: Blood splatters on the camera lens at the end of the opening when Felix O'Kelly is shot.
  • Casting Gag: Jeff Bridges once again plays a Flynn, though this time it’s just an alias.
  • Cat Fight: During an explanation of his cult's philosophy, Billy Lee has Rose and another young girl fight each other to make a point, casually mentioning along the way that he is getting off on it, even as their tussle progresses from a straight example of the trope to a increasingly violent and brutal beating.
  • Closed Circle: Sullivan is ordered by his superiors to keep the other guests of the El Royale from leaving, which he accomplishes by removing cables from their cars' engines. This only really affects Darlene; everyone else has their reasons for sticking around.
  • Concealment Equals Cover: Averted.
    • When Emily kills Sullivan, the blast from her shotgun goes through the two-way mirror and into half of Miles' face while the latter is positioned behind it.
    • In the climax, one female cultist hides behind a bench, but Miles just shoots her through it.
  • Conflict Killer: Most of the first two acts consist of the characters in conflict with each other as they pursue their various agendas. This comes to a halt when Billy Lee and his followers arrive, at which point everyone save Rose is devoted to surviving the murderous cult leader.
  • Contrived Coincidence: The fact that so many people with ulterior motives happened to arrive at the hotel on the same night defies all probability.
  • Convection Schmonvection: The El Royale is set on fire during the climactic fight, but Darlene and Flynn stay inside for several minutes without even sweating.
  • Cornered Rattlesnake: Billy Lee pushes Flynn too far in his assumption that Flynn's just a doddering old priest. Flynn's also got about 40 years of fighting experience on Billy Lee, and kicks the younger man's ass with little effort.
  • Cult: While more philosophical than religious in his rhetoric, Billy Lee has a Manson-esque cult of followers who are willing to commit terrible violence in his name.
  • Dead Drop: The opening scene is of a man crafting one of these by prying up the floorboards at El Royale. We later find out that Flynn is there to retrieve the money. It was put there by his brother after Flynn took the fall for the heist that went awry.
  • Dead Star Walking: Jon Hamm is one of the bigger names in the cast but Sullivan is the first of the main seven to die.
  • Decoy Protagonist: Each "act" generally follows this pattern. For instance, the film opens with Felix hiding money in the floor until he's abruptly killed and focus shifts to Darlene and Flynn instead. The same happens with Sullivan, Emily, Miles, Billy Lee and Rose, with each taking the focus for a time before they're abruptly killed.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: The name "El Royale" doesn't seem to fit any one language, but "el" is clearly the Spanish word for "the," so calling it "The El Royale" is redundant.
  • Destroy the Evidence:
    • Sullivan was sent to the El Royale in order to get rid of the FBI's surveillance equipment.
    • The reel of film is thrown into the flames after Flynn offers it to Darlene. The register bearing their names is likewise burned up.
  • Died in Your Arms Tonight: Miles dies in the arms of Flynn, properly confessing all of his sins to him.
  • Dies Wide Open: Sullivan, Emily, and Miles die with their eyes open. Surprisingly averted with Billy, even though he is shot in the forehead.
  • Dwindling Party: Only two of the seven people at the El Royale make it out alive by the end (and Flynn does not have that much time, meaning it won't be long before Darlene is the only person involved in the El Royale mess left alive).
  • Ensemble Cast: There is no single "main" character in this story, and the POV shifts between the key characters in every segment.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Several characters get more than one: first showing the person they display around others, and then the introduction of their real selves.
    • Sullivan's first conversations with the other guests displays a friendly if a little sleazy personality. His real introduction is his sweet conversation with his family and his keen investigative skills, revealing his moral uprightness.
    • Father Flynn is a friendly, if eccentric, priest who's nothing but understanding. His private scene witnessed by Sullivan shows a frantic, desperate search for the money, connecting him to dangerous criminals... but then quickly relaxing upon hearing Darlene sing, showing he isn't evil.
    • Rose first appears as a terrified victim of kidnapping. But the moment she's told she doesn't have to be afraid, she loses all emotion for most of the film.
    • Billy Lee's first scene portrays him under the glow of the sun, helping out Rose in the middle of her depression. His next is leading his cult to capture and hold hostage the entire hotel.
    • Darlene, the most honest of the guests, is quickly established as friendly, if reserved. She's also the first one to finally take action to wake Miles, proving that she isn't passive if she doesn't need to be.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Most of the people in the hotel are morally sketchy at best and outright murderers at worst, but they are all thoroughly disgusted by Billy Lee.
  • Evil Is Petty: Billy claiming he 'heard better' as to continue spinning the wheel after Darlene sings promising her she wouldn't if she sang seems mostly a lie and instead him taking revenge on her for her earlier "The Reason You Suck" Speech.
  • Extended Disarming: More of an extended debugging, when Sullivan first moves into his room. One of the first indications that he is more than he appears.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: Outside of the flashbacks, prologue, and epilogue, the entire film takes place over one night at the titular hotel.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Billy Lee presents himself as being a charming gentleman, but in reality, his motives and intentions are completely sinister.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: Flynn and Darlene become this since they work together to get the money out of the hotel despite an initially violent first impression.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Sullivan insists that Darlene have some of the coffee he's made for everyone. Considering their respective races and origins (he's ostensibly from the South) and the fact that racial segregation for hotels and restaurants has just barely been outlawed, this is a nice way to let her know that she doesn't have to worry about him taking offense to her staying there. However, he completely misses that she then has to pay for the coffee when she's clearly trying to save every penny. It's indicative of his personality. A good man who insists on doing the right thing, but doesn't always think through the consequences - often causing harm to the very people he wants to help. He later disobeys orders to "rescue" Rose from her "kidnapping" - which leads to his death and the deaths of six people - half of whom arguably didn't deserve it.
    • When Miles asks Flynn "What are you doing here, Father?", his first response is a quiet "Do I know you?" It's one of the earliest hints of his Alzheimer's.
    • The flashback to Billy Lee explaining his cult's philosophy shows Rose fist-fighting another young girl for a chance to sleep with Billy. The way she turns psychotically violent over the chance to be with Billy foreshadows the fact that she can be lethally dangerous if anything gets between her and him.
  • Glory Days: A non-human example in the El Royale itself. The hotel used to be a famous hideaway for the rich and famous, with numerous celebrities and politicians staying there. Then it lost its gambling and liquor license on the Nevada side and fell to one step above a no-tell motel with a single employee.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: The El Royale's "management". We never find out who they are or what they're doing with their tapes of the hotel's various guests.
  • Grievous Bottley Harm: Darlene smashes Father Flynn in the face with a wine bottle, leaving him unconscious on the lounge floor.
  • Have You Told Anyone Else?: One of Billy Lee's first questions to Emily is if she told them about what Rose did.
  • Hope Spot: Billy Lee promises to spare Darlene from his sadistic game if she sings for him. She does and the film focuses in on her and plays up how much heart and soul she's putting into singing for her life. Smash Cut to Billy Lee slamming the roulette table and declaring that he's "heard better".
  • Horrible Judge of Character:
    • Inverted. Darlene has an excellent sense for when someone is just completely full of it.
    • Miles attempts to comfort Rose after he executes Billy, which means that he either didn't realize she would try to harm him for this or that he did think she'd attack him and just didn't expect that she might have hidden a weapon on her person. He gets stabbed and killed as a result.
    • Rose wanting someone to trust isn't that unreasonable and while it's not apparently obvious to her, it's clear that red flags should have gone off the instant Billy Lee started seducing her.
  • Horror Hippies: Emily is trying to save her sister Rose from the sinister influence of cult leader Billy Lee (an obvious Manson Expy) but Rose is so brainwashed that she only wants to get back. And when Billy Lee and his followers arrive to get her back, all hell breaks loose.
  • Internal Reveal: We suspect pretty early on that Father Flynn is not a priest, but the rest of the characters don't. The internal reveal proves to be particularly dramatic for Darlene and Miles.
  • Kick the Dog: Sullivan behaves as a smarmy, overbearing racist when he first meets Flynn and Darlene. It's later revealed to be an act, though whether he's really a racist is left unexplored.
  • Kill 'Em All: Flynn and Darlene are the only main characters still alive by the end of the movie. And even then, Flynn's Alzheimer's will have advanced to the point he'll have forgotten just about everything about himself within the year.
  • Killed Mid-Sentence:
    • Emily blasts Sullivan in the chest as he is trying to explain himself for trying to get Rose out of the room.
    • Billy Lee is shot in the head as he's addressing Miles.
  • Let Them Die Happy: Flynn assumes his identity of a priest to comfort the morally-wounded Miles, hearing his confession and absolving him.
  • MacGuffin: There are three MacGuffins in the film, though no one thing drives the plot overall.
    • The suitcase full of money hidden under the floorboards of one of the rooms. Flynn is after it, and Billy Lee tries to take it.
    • Rose. Emily is trying to keep her away from Billy Lee, who is trying to recover her.
    • The film, which is supposedly worth more than the briefcase full of money, but ultimately just gets added to the loot; no one is looking specifically for it. In the end, Darlene just disposes of it rather than try to profit off of it.
  • Match Cut: Miles as a child shooting an airsoft rifle cuts to Miles as an adult firing a sniper.
  • Meaningful Name: Miles; the name "Miles" is originally a Latin word for "soldier", fitting since he used to be a U.S. military sniper during the Vietnam War in which he had 123 confirmed kills.
  • Mercy Kill:
    • Miles dies being absolved of his sins during the war and not having to be weighed down by them anymore.
    • Had Rose lived, she would have eventually had to face the consequences and immense guilt of everything she did for Billy Lee.
  • Mickey Mousing: Exploited. To get around the two-way mirror and microphones in the rooms, Flynn hides between the beds and carefully pries his way into the floorboards, timing his sounds with Darlene's singing and clapping so that his actions will be drowned out.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed:
    • Billy Lee is very clearly based on cult leader Charles Manson. The story even sets itself in 1969, Manson's most violent year, to drive the point home.
    • Whoever is the subject of the mysterious blackmail film. This person is said to be recently deceased and very important. Martin Luther King had been the subject of a similiar blackmail plot by the FBI, but the material had already been released by 1969, leaving Bobby Kennedy as the most likely candidate.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Sullivan defies orders and intervenes in what appears to be a kidnapping, and is killed for his trouble.
  • Not Now, Kiddo: While they are searching the secret corridor behind the cabins, Miles is desperately trying to confess something to Father Flynn, who keeps putting him off (for obvious reasons). It turns out that what Miles was trying to tell him would have been really useful information to have when Billy Lee arrives.
  • Old, Dark House: A variation. While the El Royale isn't quite as old as most instances of this trope, and isn't really a house, the movie follows the basic Old Dark House plot of a bunch of strangers, each of them carrying a secret, trapped in a Closed Circle in a sinister location.
  • The Oner: The entire scene where Sullivan finds the corridor of one-way mirrors is done in one long take. This is particularly notable in that he looks into three different occupied hotel rooms to see what are essentially mini-dramas in each, all happening simultaneously with no edits.
    • This is likely an homage to the famous use of this trope in Touch of Evil, which was also set on a border.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Sullivan the vacuum salesman's Southern accent is pretty patchy. It's fake, so this might be intentional.
  • Riddle for the Ages: The movie features several mysteries that are never resolved. To wit...
    • Who killed Felix O'Kelly?
    • We never do find out why the owners of the El Royale have Miles record the misdeeds of the guests, or who the famous person is whose film Miles refused to turn in actually was beyond some famous now dead womanizer. See No Celebrities Were Harmed.
    • We never find out what kind of surveillance operation the FBI was running at the El Royale that warranted the direct involvement of J. Edgar Hoover but at the same time never noticed the blackmail operation being run by Management.
    • Why did Rose kill that man in Malibu?
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Miles, who is wracked with guilt over all of the people he killed in Vietnam.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: Billy Lee is shot and killed by Miles before he can have a chance to try to talk himself out of it.
    • Darlene delivers a verbal one earlier, which for the first time wipes Billy's smug smile off his face.
      • And when he tries to respond, he only gets out one syllable before Darlene tells him, "I've heard it."
  • Slipping a Mickey: Father Flynn slips several drops of what is probably chloral hydrate into Darlene's drink, so she can be gotten out of the way for a while.
  • Teens Are Monsters: Rose is the most directly violent character we see on screen, being the only one we see get up close and personal to kill.
  • Traveling at the Speed of Plot: The hotel is in the California-Nevada border, near Reno. However, Billy Lee and his goons arrive there from what is implied to be Malibu (almost 500 miles away) in a matter of at most a couple of hours after getting the phone call from Rose.
  • The Unreveal: We never find out who was in the camera roll that Miles kept hidden away. See No Celebrities Were Harmed for more.
  • Vehicular Sabotage: Sullivan disables all of the cars in the parking lot so that no one can leave the El Royale.
  • Walking Shirtless Scene: Billy Lee wears his shirt fully or partially open, if he wears one at all.
  • Wham Line:
    Darlene: How many people have you killed?
    Miles: 123.

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