‘Bad Times At The El Royale’ Puts Sartre In Pulp Fiction Noir

SPOILER ALERT: While this review will as much as possible respect the twists and turns within the film, it’s suggested to read this review after watching the film. This better enhances your idea of the film and have your own unadulterated opinion about it. Read at your own risk. 

It has to be a Drew Goddard thing to put a group together in a Sartre setting. In 1994, Jean-Paul Sartre trapped three people, strangers, in a room that is hell. Discussions turned to heated arguments have pushed each other to the edge. Even with a chance at an escape, the group remained and thus one concludes, “hell is other people”. Goddard having executively produce ‘The Good Place’ and make his directorial debut with ‘Cabin In The Woods’, it’s not a surprise to find him with yet another character-driven story. With ‘Bad Times At The El Royale’, we find Goddard take Sartre to a whole new setting—a hotel that stands in both California and Nevada.

Hell Is Other People

“All roads lead here,” the poster of the film suggests. As the description of the movie suggests, seven strangers gather—all bearing secrets they’re determined not to expose. While the film holds on to this premise, we find a more riveting plot to follow. A mixture of Sartre and Orwell as I may put it, the film suggests that in heaven there is hell and “hell is other people”. The philosophy of freedom, religion, and morality incredibly discussed in words and actions. El Royale may not just be a hotel but the purgatory—where ones who we thought seek solace are apparently in pursuit of redemption.

Bad times are definitely in the premises of El Royale. The hotel that runs in the middle of two states, California and Nevada, was once a place of glitz and glamour. Yet this fades for reasons that only gossips could explain. The 1960s setting was created to leave us traces of what was then yet emphasize the ‘now’. The strangers pulled together carry different stories that have driven them to an ill-fated fortune at the hotel. The ensemble would not be as you expect it to be. You won’t see Don Draper or Thor—the movie, just as its talented cast, have created new characters for us to remember them it and its cast by. We’re engaged in their stories and the way they push and pull each other. Conspiracies and betrayals move the plot bringing us to a conclusion that there’s no way one can escape from hell.

California Or Nevada

The movie has a thrilling, on-the-edge atmosphere that even the calmest scenes keep you expecting. What you’re expecting is the most fascinating part. You don’t know what it is. The fear of the unknown as built up from the wordless opening. Expectations have been broken—surpassed and shattered to pieces. The riveting blood-splattering noir is told in unchained events, a little out of chronological order. A jump in every room tells the story of each. Don’t be fooled by room numbers—the stories don’t restrict itself within the walls. The storytelling is reminiscent of ‘Pulp Fiction’, set on the 60s. The direction and treatment could be taken from a Kubrick film with, of course, the Sartre philosophy in every Goddard creation.

The bisected hotel is a choice of on its own. You have the freedom to choose which state you’ll choose to stay at. Sleep in California where it’s all “warmth and sunshine” or in Nevada, a state of “hope and opportunity”. While Nevada can be a bit more boring as you’d think without the liquor, it’s a dollar cheaper than California. Seeing Goddard’s creations come to life on the big screen, characters are all faced with choices. As I have mentioned, the decisions they make turns the plot to directions that may or may not be on their favor. With this device, the audience is kept on their seats hoping to find the resolution as the characters seek absolution.

The battle of morality and religion is evident even in small scenes. What’s right and what’s wrong? The characters decide and we’ve no choice but empathize through the commitments they make as the story goes on. The film, Goddard’s “love letter to the 60s”, has completely engulfed Post-Vietnam War America on that setting. The revolution in art and music, the assassinations and a new president—the turmoil that only adds to scale tipping it to the good and the bad. The movie, ingenious on its own, will keep you just as the strangers are held by the mystery of El Royale. Choose to leave or to stay but there’s no escaping its phantom.

From 20th Century Fox, ‘Bad Times At The El Royale’ opens November 21 in cinemas nationwide.