Welcome to the El Royale – a unique motel straddling the state line between Nevada and California.
Hope and opportunity on one side and sunny skies t’other.
Rooms on the Californian side are a dollar more than in Nevada, for no good reason, and for the most part there’s no good reason for anything in this story.
It comes from Drew Goddard whose screenwriting credits include The Martian, Cloverfield, World War Z and The Cabin in the Woods which he alone directed, but co-wrote with Joss Whedon.
Here, Goddard has done all the work himself, writing, producing and directing a tale where the setting is as important as the characters. I came across one review that surmised the hotel must represent purgatory, a kind of waiting room between heaven and hell.
Jeff Bridges is the first to arrive as Father Daniel Flynn (a Tron reference?!), a kindly old priest who seems to be not quite all there.
We know this because it’s actually Darlene Sweet (Cynthia Erivo – an absolute standout in this film and can’t wait to see her in the upcoming Widows), a struggling soul singer we meet first, as she pulls into the parking lot and sees the priest standing in front of the hotel looking lost.
“Do you need help Father?” she asks, before they both enter the establishment only to find it is deserted. Until vacuum cleaner salesman Seymour “Laramie” Sullivan (Jon Hamm) pops his head up staking a claim on the honeymoon suite.
So now we have three guests but no staff until young concierge Miles Miller (Lewis Pullman) is roused from his back room to check them in and deliver a spiel on the hotel.
If you’ve seen the trailer you know there’s bloody mischief afoot and it’s hard to describe the story without giving it all away. Not only are most of the characters duplicitous, but the accommodation itself harbours a dark secret or two.
Needless to say there’s a lot going on, too much in fact, as the film drags for almost 2.5 hours without answering many of the questions it poses… One in particular, raised by Hamm’s character in a phone call is never touched on again, although perhaps this is a reference to purgatory.
The performances are solid, it’s an interesting premise, but the film labours to tell us an overly complicated story that doesn’t seem to amount to much when it’s all over.
Chris Hemsworth with his shirt off might be enough for some viewers, but for me I was left dissatisfied after too long in the dark waiting for a pay-off. For me it was hell.
“Wannabe Tarantino in the Twilight Zone”
2 & 1/2 stars