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The one big question Bad Times at the El Royale doesn’t answer

The mystery thriller seems to have forgotten something

Russ Frushtick is the director of special projects, and he has been covering the world of video games and technology for over 15 years. He co-founded Polygon in 2012.

Drew Goddard’s follow-up to Cabin in the Woods, Bad Times at the El Royale, is full of twists and turns, but one of the biggest questions is just sort of skipped over by the film. It’s very ... odd.

[Ed. note: this post contains major spoilers for Bad Times at the El Royale]

Just about every mystery movie starts with a crime being committed by a shadowy figure. We see someone get shot or stabbed and the culprit is seen in haze or fog or is depicted just out of focus enough to make you wonder whodunit.

So, too, in Bad Times at the El Royale, which begins with Nick Offerman getting a back full of buckshot after tenaciously burying a sack of cash. The shooter is seen in the doorway of his hotel room, backlit, toting a shotgun. And then things flash forward 10 years and we’re introduced to a whole host of suspicious characters.

Here’s the outrageous part though: We literally never find out who that killer was. It never comes up. Jeff Bridges’ character, Doc, the bank robber-turned-fake priest, acknowledges that his brother, played by Offerman, died. But that’s really it. Throughout the movie’s lengthy runtime you keep thinking, surely, we’re gonna find that one of the other characters did the deed. We do not.

Weirdly the movie even seems to give a handful of indicators that one of them was the killer, but just fails to follow through.

The most obvious suspect is Miles Miller (Lewis Pullman), the doe-eyed concierge/heroin addict. During one of the film’s many flashbacks we see how the sack of cash was obtained. We see Bridges’ Dock, his brother and a third man robbing an armored car. They’re all in masks. The third man has no lines and is only referred to as “The Kid.”

Now granted, Miles is a pretty young guy in the film’s present day, but certainly having a 15 year old assist with a robbery isn’t out of the question. Ten years hence would make him 25, which seems about right.

Adding to this is the fact that, for the entire film, Miller is wracked with guilt. He keeps asking Bridges’ fake priest if he can repent. We certainly see plenty of reasons for him wanting to repent throughout the film: drug use and surreptitiously filming hotel guests in their rooms for a start. But in the final minutes we learn the real reason for him wanting to repent: he’s haunted by the many soldiers he picked off as a sniper during the Vietnam War. See, he’s always been a crack shot since childhood, which made him an ideal soldier. And probably an ideal armored car robber?

I kept waiting for him to turn to Bridges and repent for killing a man in the hotel in cold blood over some money. But he never does. It’s completely forgotten about. Which seems like a bizarre loophole given it’s the first scene of the movie.

My gut says this revelation was in the original script and shot, but ended up on the cutting room floor so as to avoid stretching past the two and a half hour mark. Without official confirmation, we’ll just have to scratch our heads and wonder who the heck shot Nick Offerman.


Some folks in the comments and on social media have pointed out that the truth of the shooter may be as simple as the third armored car robber being the culprit, with some Jeff Bridges lines indicating that he’s not super trustworthy. I can definitely see this being the case, though if the shooter was this random third guy, why bother concealing his face in the first scene and during the robbery? Anyway, food for thought. Possible I went a bit down the rabbit hole there.

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