A the El Royale, a once high-class hotel on the border of California and Nevada, several strangers converge in 1969. The audience knows that ten years prior, a deceased man hid a treasure of some sort within the floorboards of one of the hotel’s rooms, but there is no early indication about what is in fact going on in Drew Goddard’s follow-up to The Cabin in the Woods.
Laramie Seymour Sullivan (Jon Hamm) displays as a vacuum salesman but he’s actually an FBI agent under Director J. Edgar Hoover’s direction. He spies on several of the other guests thanks to a secret tunnel built in the walls, like Jeff Bridge’s priest, Father Flynn, struggling Motown singer Darlene Sweet (Cynthia Ervo), and Emily Summerspring (Dakota Johnson), who has kidnapped her sister, Rose (Cailee Spaeny). The only other player early on in this And Then There Was One-like thriller is Miles Miller (Lewis Pullman), the concierge (and only staff person) at the hotel.
Dark and gripping, El Royale has a violent undercurrent we know is coming thanks to the early execution of the man who buried the treasure, and the haunting score by Michael Giacchino. Under the direction of Goddard, the film shows us elements of creepiness for each of the characters, and then backtracks to show us action from another character’s perspective. The cinematography plays with the retro feel of the hotel, but the innate chills we feel have a more modern feel (think, the Coen Brothers).
Different characters wrestle with morality, from Bridges’ priest taking ‘confession’ from Miles, Sullivan’s acceptance of the Catholicism of Flynn, and finally, Sweet’s prayer for protection in the midst of all the violence: “Lord, I need your guidance. I am in darkness, and I need your light.” We know that most of these characters are immoral, but there’s still a balance of good and evil here, in the way that we’ve seen before, less productively, in Hotel Artemis or John Wick.