WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Drew Goddard’s Bad Times at the El Royale, in theaters now.
Bad Times at the El Royale kind of comes out of nowhere with its one-two punch as a scene-setting period piece packed with every bit of mystery writer/director Drew Goddard has in him. It’s a thriller that pulls influence from pop culture, historical events and from its late-1960s setting.
The film takes place at a hotel that straddles the border of California and Nevada, and provides an air of uncertainty as the story unravels. There are twists, Easter eggs, and plenty of mental gymnastics required of each of the characters. It’s smart, even if it’s not so revolutionary, and most of it’s influences have a basis in the real world. Most of them.
There’s a pretty famous conspiracy theory (of sorts) at the heart of Bad Times at the El Royale. While some might not call it a “conspiracy theory,” the alleged affair between President John F. Kennedy and superstar Marilyn Monroe sits subtly at the center of the thriller
The first hint of that is a wall of photos in the El Royale’s lobby, in which one can quickly make out the face of Monroe. The next comes when the discussion of politicians is echoed by the hotel’s guests, and later, its hidden agenda. The concierge, Miles Miller, mentions there haven’t been many people in the hotel since “the election,” and we later learn about the camera hidden behind the wall of each room.
What did that camera capture? Prominent politicians and people with power. When you combine that with the film’s insistence on presenting a film reel as an item of great value, the theory comes together. Who was on the film reel? It seems to have been Monroe and Kennedy.
The film also touches on the surveillance state as a potential conspiracy, with bugs placed by the FBI in a number of rooms, and with the aforementioned camera watching each room through its mirror. There’s also a bit of commentary on President Richard Nixon and Watergate, as seen through newspaper clippings and television shots.
While Bad Times at the El Royale doesn’t seem as if it will turn into a battle against a child cult and its charismatic leader, played by Chris Hemsworth, it most certainly does. And the imagery and history behind Hemsworth’s Billy Lee and his cult draws clear comparisons to moments in popular culture and tragic, real-life events.
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