Welcome back to another scene analysis – this week, we will be looking at Bad Times At The El Royale by Drew Goddard.
When seven strangers gather at the El Royale hotel, trouble abounds and nobody can be trusted. Gradually, secrets are revealed about the guests of the hotel, violence ensues and a dangerous man wants to play a game of life and death with them. With a cast that includes Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Dakota Johnson and Chris Hemsworth, the film was set for success.
It has a 75% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and is a unique storyline – so why aren’t more people talking about it? It’s one of the most underrated films of 2018 so I’m here to celebrate it.
There is so much that could be spoken about within the film; for fans of Cabin In The Woods, a similar format follows that Goddard hints at elements throughout the storyline that will play out later. Character by character, we learn more and more about the deception that has taken place by most of the characters as it unfolds that the hotel may not be what it seems.
Jeff Bridges plays a bank robber who is pretending to be a priest in order to retrieve his money which is hidden beneath the floorboards of Cynthia Erivo’s room. However, he runs into trouble he speaks with the hotel worker who shows him the hidden corridor behind all of the rooms which gives an insight into what is happening inside. When looking at this, they discover that Dakota’s ‘hippy’ character has ‘kidnapped’ someone. However, it soon is revealed that the person she kidnapped is her sister – and it’s all with good reason.
The pair of them were a part of a cult lead by Chris Hemsworth who plays a character so far from the godly and worthy Thor – Billy Lee. Billy Lee has a god complex but none of the credentials to back it up.
His entrance marks a turning point in the story; while the characters have been focused on their own mission, they are now all thrown into the same strife with Billy Lee out for blood against all of them.
The entire film is a study of religion – in each of the characters’ lives, religion plays a part in all of it whether for good or bad. Goddard cleverly distributes religious imagery throughout, often showing crosses in the wallpaper or using lines in the shot.
Billy Lee poses the question – “What does God mean to you?” and it is a perfect theme for the plot. Everyone in the plot is having a crises of faith in one way or another, regardless of what they believe in. Billy uses this for his advantage by preying on the weak and vulnerable who believe that God has forsaken them.
He tells them, “Tonight, we get to be our own gods.” However, what he really means is that he is a god and he is in control of all of them. And when someone goes against him, he punishes them.
When Billy Lee first arrives at the El Royale, he walks the line between Nevada and California – which could be used as a metaphor for walking the line between good and evil. He believes that he is neither good nor is he evil; he has to complete these tasks in order to take back what is rightfully his by whatever means necessary.
One of my favourite aspects of Goddard’s work in Bad Times is that he uses my favourite trope of playing pop music over the top of a serious scene. The soundtrack for Bad Times is well worth a listen and over the top of Billy’s entrance plays the rather dreamy ‘Twelve Thirty (Young Girls Are Coming To The Canyon)’ by The Mamas & The Papas.
As Billy’s cronies capture Darlene Sweet and the priest, we can see that there is a sound of struggle but it is mutes so that all we can hear is the sound of the music playing – the focus on the scene is Billy’s entrance. He is important and will have weight on the scene – he doesn’t need to come in all guns blazing. He can just walk calmly through the rain barefoot, soaking it all in.
Goddard finally reveals Billy Lee to us but he is still absorbing the moment. He doesn’t care about the violence that he is about the inflict – everything about Billy’s character is about building the threat. He doesn’t need to be beating the other character’s up or swearing at them every two seconds to exert his power.
His first line is threatening enough – ‘Howdy’.
We then skip to a scene of Billy’s cult following behind him – like the disciples following Jesus. We can already see what power he has over people by how they follow him without question. Although the scene is bright and colourful with cheerful music over the top, it couldn’t be more threatening.
For the remainder of his time in the film, he exerts his power over the rest of them in other ways. He orders ‘Boots’ around and watches her do his bidding, he mocks Emily throughout and he de-frocks Bridges as the priest. He then tells Boots to put on some music, saying that the silence ‘gives him the willies’.
However, he then reveals that it’s just another tactic to intimidate them. He picks up a plate of the pie that Bridges had ordered and begins to tuck in as the music kicks in. Goddard framed this shot in an incredibly interesting way, however, to show a halo crowning his head.
He then begins to dance to the music – totally carefree. All of it is a show of power to show to them that he can do whatever he wants to them and they can’t do anything about it. Especially when he starts to thrust his hips in Bridges’ direction – all to antagonise him.
Although Billy does eventually get his comeuppance, it’s really interesting to see a villain like this. He does resort to violence but it’s always calculated – his power is shown through his words and his actions. He’s a god, he doesn’t need to be physical with them. Personally, I believe this is the performance of Chris Hemsworth’s career – it was thoroughly enjoyable and he was terrifying to watch.
This scene will stick with me for a long time.
What did you guys think of this film? Let us know in the comments below and let us know which film you would like us to analyse next!