The stylized mystery thriller Bad Times at the El Royale comes out next month with an ensemble cast including Chris Hemsworth, Jeff Bridges, Nick Offerman, Cynthia Erivo, Dakota Johnson and John Hamm to name a few.
Seven strangers, each trying to bury or forget their own secrets, meet at a shady hotel in Lake Tahoe. Everyone, according to the official 20th Century Fox description, will have "one shot at redemption" over the course of an evening. Hopefully, before everything goes to hell.
The film is written and directed by Drew Goddard, who has penned some incredible screenplays and teleplays such a Cloverfield, Cabin in the Woods, and many of the episodes of Netflix’s Daredevil, so the plot should have quite a few unexpected twists.
Although I haven’t seen that much publicity yet, I’m always interested in these types of movies, where a mismatched group of strangers somehow end up together in an increasingly eerie or dangerous situation.
This probably goes back to when I used to read my grandma’s old mystery paperbacks, including the classic Agatha Christie mysteries such as And Then There Were None (although my grandma’s version was called Ten Little Indians, which is actually much less offensive than Christie’s original title), which takes place on an isolated island, and “Death on the Nile” set mostly on a Nile River luxury cruise.
I recall this type of plot as being called “cats in barrel” from a college writing class, but no matter, there is always something intriguing about a bunch of people who normally wouldn’t be spending time together either coming together to solve a mystery or to fight off a certain danger, provided they don’t rip each other apart first.
Before next month’s El Royale, here are three films of this sort I recommend watching while you wait.
Murder on the Orient Express (1974)
I’m not one of those people who trashed last year’s remake of this Agatha Christie classic directed by Kenneth Branagh (I actually really enjoyed it), but if you want to see the best version of this Hercule Poirot mystery, in which he tries to nail down the killer of the influential and shady Samuel Ratchett aboard a luxury train, there is no better version than the one with Albert Finney as Poirot, and Sean Connery, Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, and Anthony Perkins among the impressive cast of characters.
Very rarely do I really find myself enjoying a mystery story once I know the answer. But the interplay of these people who seem to have nothing in common, and the building of suspense is so good in this one, even after reading the book and seeing various versions of this story, I can enjoy it again.
The Hateful Eight (2015)
This Quentin Tarantino western mystery makes me claustrophobic, but that’s one of the things that make it such a good story. Eight people together in a cabin surrounded by stark, cold nothingness is bad enough, but as events unfold, you start to realize you don’t like any of these people. However, as the stories — and back stories — begin to unfold in the truly vile way Tarantino has mastered, finding out who has done what to whom and why hooks you throughout.
Tarantino uses his “jumping back to the beginning” technique to reveal more about the outcome and ending in a tightly written way. Samuel Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Bruce Dern, and Tim Roth are five of the “hateful” cast members. It’s saying something about a plot when even though you pretty much hate every one of the characters in the end, you still want to see it through and find out what happens. You’ll probably want to go out afterward, take a walk on a sunny afternoon, and talk to some happy, nice people just to shake this one off.
Although I didn’t feel this psychological thriller was a solid enough film on its own to want to watch it more than once, I still recommended it if you haven’t seen it before.
Like Royale, this also takes place in a creepy Nevada hotel. Ten strangers check in, get stranded...and check out the hard way one by one. John Cusack, Ray Liotta, Jake Busey, and Amada Peet are among the stars in this weird story who realize they have more in common than they thought.
Bad Times at the El Royale comes to theaters Oct. 5.