Film and Plot Synopsis
Bad Times at the El Royale takes place in the early 1970s. Four strangers check in at the El Royale Hotel which was once very popular; now it’s deserted, and only a single clerk staffs it. We quickly learn that some of the new guests’ reasons for being there are less than innocent, and some are not who they appear to be.
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‘Bad Times at the El Royale’ Movie Summary
Ten years later, four strangers all seek to check into the El Royale hotel at the California-Nevada border. The hotel was once a popular stop for Hollywood stars and the political elite until it ultimately lost its gambling license. The four strangers are made up of Catholic priest Daniel Flynn (Jeff Bridges), soul singer Darlene Sweet (Cynthia Erivo), angry hippie Emily Summerspring (Dakota Johnson), and vacuum salesman Laramie Seymour Sullivan (Jon Hamm). The El Royale’s only employee is Miles Miller (Lewis Pullman).
After all the guests check in, the film follows vacuum salesman Sullivan. Sullivan has the honeymoon sweet on the California side of the hotel. Once in his room, he begins removing all the wire taps that are hidden in the room. After finding over a dozen bugs, he goes and tries to find Miles. He finds the bellboy unconscious with a drug needle in his arm. He also finds a secret corridor from which each guest’s room can be observed by a two way mirror. In the passageway, there is a camera setup, which appears to have been used to record some of the goings on at the hotel.
Through the mirror, he sees Darlene practicing her singing, Father Flynn tearing up the floorboards, and Emily bringing a tied up woman into her hotel room. Sullivan leaves the room and makes a call to the FBI from a payphone. It turns out that Sullivan is actually FBI Special Agent Dwight Broadbeck. His assignment is to remove all the FBI surveillance equipment from the hotel. His assignment has been made more difficult due to the additional surveillance equipment that is not the FBI’s and the apparent kidnapping going on in Emily’s room, which he is directed ignore. He is also instructed to not let any of the other guests leave, so he sabotages the cars of all the other guests.
Meanwhile, Father Flynn invites Darlene to join him for dinner in the hotel lobby. Darlene sees the priest attempting to spike her drink after dinner, so she hits him in the head with a whiskey bottle, knocking him unconscious. Miles finds Father Flynn sometime later and wakes him. Miles has a guilty conscious for the things he has done over the years for “management”. He seeks absolution from Father Flynn. He shows Flynn the secret passageway to explain how he conducted his assignments for “management”. Miles admits that he would film guests and then send the film to headquarters, save one that he hung on to due to the public figure being nice to him. Flynn leaves him in the passageway to examine the film that Miles hung onto.
While he is standing in the passageway, Miles sees Sullivan break into Emily’s room and knocking her to the ground. Sullivan tries to free the abducted woman named Rose (Cailee Spaeny), but the secret FBI agent is shot and killed by Emily with her shotgun. Some of the buckshot breaks the two-way mirror, revealing the passageway, and hitting Miles in the face, injuring him.
While Emily investigates the passageway, the now freed Rose goes to the hotel phone and calls Billy Lee (Chris Hemsworth), the man she is in love with. Rose is Emily’s younger sister, and Emily has kidnapped her because she believes that Billy Lee is dangerous and she wants to protect her sibling. Rose tells Billy Lee where they are at before joining Emily in the interrogation of Miles.
At the same time, Darlene is trying to make her escape from the hotel. She witnesses Emily shoot Sullivan, and is afraid for her life. After Emily and Rose leave Emily’s room, Darlene goes into the room and takes Sullivan’s pistol. She also collects the stolen cables for the cars from his pocket and tries to repair her car. When the car won’t start, she is startled by Father Flynn knocking on the car door. Flynn explains to her that his actual name is Dock O’Kelly, and he is actually the criminal that stole a large sum of money in 1959.
Flynn was apprehended and spent ten years in prison, while his accomplice brother buried the money under the floor of one of the rooms at the El Royale before being betrayed and killed by another accomplice. Flynn confesses that his memory is failing, and he may have remembered the wrong room number where the money is hidden. He tells Darlene that he thinks it’s in her room, and he will split it with her evenly if he lets her search. Flynn does not tell her about the film that he acquired from Miles. Darlene reluctantly agrees and pretends to sing in her room to throw off Emily who watches her through the window, unaware of Flynn’s search on the other side of the room.
They find the money and Darlene and Father Flynn attempt to leave the hotel, but are stopped by Billy Lee and his men who have just arrived. Billy Lee gathers and ties up Darlene, Flynn, Miles, and Emily in the lobby of the El Royale. He finds both the money and the film, and begins to interrogate the foursome. When he feels that they are not being truthful with their answers, he shoots and kills Emily. When Billy Lee threatens to shoot Darlene, Father Flynn attacks Billy Lee and frees himself.
During the chaos, Miles is freed and Darlene pleads with him to pick up a gun off the floor and help Flynn. Miles confesses that he has killed 123 people in his life, most of which while he served in Vietnam. Miles feels incredible guilt for the lives he has taken. Nevertheless, he picks up the handgun and single handedly kills Billy Lee and all his men. However, Rose is able to shove Billy Lee’s knife into his stomach. Rose is killed by Flynn.
Miles’ injury is fatal, and he begs Flynn to absolve him of his sins. Darlene pleads with a reluctant Flynn to give him last rights, which Flynn does. Miles dies feeling that his soul has been saved. Darlene and Flynn gather up the money, but he throws the film into the fire, destroying it. They leave the hotel together.
The next night, Flynn attends Darlene’s performance in a Reno casino lounge. She smiles at Flynn, who is no longer dressed as a priest and begins to sing.
Additional Film Information
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