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Bad Times at the Hotel Royale: The Power of Music

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As previously mentioned in past articles, I’m a major crime/mystery/thriller buff. In the past few years there have been some exhilarating films in these genres released. One in particular that I feel is worth celebrating is the multi-layered mystery Bad Times at the El Royale coming from director Drew Goddard (Cloverfield, The Cabin In the Woods, Lost). Describing the film as a “love letter to music”, the film is full of performances and music by and from the cast, as well as Goddard himself.

About the film:

Synopsis: Circa 1969, several strangers, most with a secret to bury, meet by chance at Lake Tahoe’s El Royale, a rundown hotel with a dark past. Over the course of one night, everyone will show their true colors – before everything will go to hell.

Starring Jeff Bridges, Cynthi Evrio, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm, Chris Hemsworth, and Nick Offerman to name a few, my favorite character (besides Chris Hemsworth, who plays a charismatic and twisted cult leader) is of course the music.

The music department:

Film, TV, and video game composer Michael Giacchino was enlisted to help create the mysterious and dark atmosphere of the film. He takes us on an incredible journey, navigating the audience through the complicated layers of the neo-noir film. From melodic, to choral, to ambient music, nothing is missing from this complex soundtrack. He provides everything you would want in a score accompanying a story like this.

I envy the music executive team, consisting of Patrick Houlihan (The Hate You Give, Gone Girl, Just Friends) and Johnny Choi (Hidden Figures, X-Men: Appocolapse, Ferdinand).  They got to coordinate the use of retro hits from the Four Tops, Frankie Valli, The Crystals, and The American Breed to name a few. They also had their work cut out for them coordinating the clearance process, as well as all of the on-camera scenes.

Noteworthy scenes:

One of my favorite scenes in the movie is when Jon Hamm’s character (Dwight Broadbeck) goes snooping around the hotel, and stumbles upon secret tunnels. The tunnels lead him to two way mirrors and a speaker to enable him to see and  hear what is going on in every room of the hotel. As he wonders through the tunnels in disbelief, he witnesses a couple of the above-mentioned cast members doing strange things in their rooms. One guest in particular holds his attention initially. Cynthi Evrio plays Darlene Sweet, a soft-spoken singer traveling to perform a show in Reno.  While she’s practicing in her room, Dwight turns on the speaker to hear her sing. Darlene begins an acapella of the Isley Brothers “This Old Heart Of Mine” that echoes through the tunnels as Dwight looks into other hotel rooms. You hear her soulful crooning echoing through the tunnel as Dwight inspects the other windows. He stops at room where we see a woman dragging another woman bound and unconscious into her empty room. This scene gave me chills because at this moment Darlene’s voice gets swallowed up by the scene and even though her acapella hasn’t changed, the scene becomes even more eerie then when it started.

The story takes a new, treacherous turn when Billy Lee enters the picture. His introduction into the film entails him slow-walking through the hotel parking lot while the rain comes pouring down and the Mamas and Papas “Twelve Thirty” plays. The song in the scene translates Billy’s bewitching and dazzling presence. But the song itself has very dark lyrical content, which is perfect feeling for the dangerous Billy Lee.

In the final showdown with Billy, the scene is narrated by Deep Purple’s cover of ”Hush”. The second the song starts and you hear the howling of the wolf, the hair stands up on the back of your neck. You feel the imminent danger that everyone is in. Billy dances around seductively as he questions the prisoners. This is one of Goddard’s favorite songs of all time, so it was bound to make an appearance in the film. The song takes over the scene while Billy forces his victims to play roulette with their lives, ending with the instant death of one of the captives.

Few times do I walk out of a movie theatre and feel changed. When I walked out of the theatre after seeing this movie, I was stirred with all of the emotion that transpired throughout the film. The way that music was developed into the eighth main character of the movie was absolutely brilliant. Both the director and the music team did an incredible job creating a musical character that was as complex, mysterious, and dangerous as the other hotel guests. The soundtrack of Bad Times at the El Royale  further proves the power of music and the connection it cements with the film and it’s audience. For those of you who have not seen it, go! Buy the soundtrack as well!

Rosie Howe

About Rosie Howe

Rosie Howe is an L.A. based music supervisor, licensor, and entertainment administration manager. Her clients include filmmakers, producers, film & tv production companies, advertising agencies, tech companies, as well as brands in various industries. Rosie advises on music selection and original music production, licensing strategies, artist relations, and serves as a proficient arbitrator. Rosie is an active member of the Guild of Music Supervisors and the California Copyright Conference. She has a background in music performance, legal administration, peer education, customers service, and sales. As a firm believer in social investment, Rosie spends her free time providing helpful feedback and educational resources to people starting out in the entertainment industry through workshops, panels, and one-on-one sessions. She has been featured on Behind the Music podcast, panels for Music Biz Mentors, and is a regular contributor to the magazine style blog Ms. In The Biz.