The Royal Hotel, 2023.
Directed by Kitty Green.
Starring Julia Garner, Jessica Henwick, Toby Wallace, Hugo Weaving, Nick Slater, James Frecheville, Daniel Henshall, Ursula Yovich, Alex Malone, Bree Bain, Nic Darrigo, Barbara Lowing, Adam MacNeill, Kate Cheel, Adam Morgan, Ben Eggleton, Bruce R. Carter, Craig McArdle, Len Firth, Joel Hartgen, Baykali Ganambarr, Chrissie Page, Patrick Frost, and Herbert Nordrum.
After running out of money while backpacking in a tiny, male-dominated town in the Australian outback, two friends resort to a working holiday at the Royal Hotel. When the locals behavior starts crossing the line, the girls find themselves trapped in an unnerving situation that grows rapidly out of their control.
This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strike. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, The Royal Hotel wouldn’t exist.
The Royal Hotel is a horrifying, cautionary tale of men’s predatory tactics to isolate a woman from her protective friend and weasel their way into an advantageous position for their sexual impulses.
Strapped for cash on vacation and taking up a service ad to bartend at a remote Australian pub surrounded by alcoholic and misogynistic degenerates and miners, Hanna and Liv (Julia Garner and Jessica Henwick) find themselves mistreated and insulted throughout their stay. There is also a man who routinely interjects, insisting that his dirty comments are lighthearted while also trying to tell sexual jokes that Hanna ignores. The odds are high that in scenarios similar to what’s presented here in co-writer/director Kitty Green’s film (scripted alongside Oscar Redding and based on a documentary), a joke is not just a joke but rather people showing their true character.
This is a rowdy, raucous pub, with that boisterous noise expertly conveyed through top-notch sound design that consistently immerses the viewer into the environment. Naturally, the dialogue sound is slightly lower, but with finely tuned mixing, so everything can still be heard and deciphered. As a result, when gender dynamic and drunken-based danger continue to escalate, tension and fear are much more palpable. From the dirty look of the pub to the empty and vast scorching-hot landscape to the sounds, Kitty Green has crafted a nerve-shredding atmospheric feature bustling with authenticity in this thankless line of work.
That’s not to say that the terror solely comes from a third act embracing full-on thriller set-pieces. What is far more unsettling here is how, despite being best friends, Hanna and Liv are pulled apart through their opposing personalities, with the former more shy and introverted, feeling vulnerable and afraid that it’s not safe to be around these people, convinced that they need to run away as soon as their first payment comes. Meanwhile, Liv is more of a social butterfly, comfortable getting drunk with the patrons and surrounding miners (Hanna stays away from alcoholic beverages entirely), often ending up entirely oblivious to the true character of these men.
Hanna is there to make the money and move on, especially after a traumatizing incident almost occurs upon letting her guard down and taking up an offer from Matty (Toby Wallace), a local willing to drive the girls to a swimming spot and subsequently becoming friendlier with him. Liv is happy to unwind and misguidedly shows some trust. As the nights increasingly become more belligerent and out of control, with Hanna progressively pushed further to a breaking point, Liv stands her ground, insisting that the men are harmless and that everything will be okay. The cracks in that friendship are deeply felt and painstakingly expressed through a pair of extraordinary performances (complete with a handful of creepy men sliding right into their deceptively icky characters.)
Other fascinating dynamics and layers are at play here, such as a group of women on their way out as Hanna and Liv initially arrive; they go along with the objectification and misogyny. Even those moments are filled with classless behavior and teachable moments for the men, such as one of them being excited that a woman has flashed the pub, taking that as an open invitation to get touchy, which she doesn’t want.
The pub is also run by Hugo Weaving’s drunken Billy, who regularly drinks himself into a stupor and verbally abuses every woman in his vicinity under the guise of cultural differences (he freely throws out the C-word as a term of endearment even though it clearly upsets Hanna), and essentially needs his maid (Ursula Yovich) to keep the establishment in functioning order. It also turns out he has been forgetting to pay the pub’s supplier or possibly doesn’t have the money to do so, which doesn’t bode well for our protagonists. Nevertheless, this woman is practically the only source of comfort and ally to Hanna and Liv, especially as every man here becomes more erratic and violence-prone.
The action that takes place during its climax and the image emblazoned on the object that does so is symbolic perfection. It’s the only ending for this scathing, terrifying, and vital look at gender dynamics in the middle of nowhere and inside a line of work where women have historically been mistreated. However, that doesn’t mean the shift into full-blown suspense territory is seamless, as there are some unsatisfying moving parts and abandoned threads.
With that in mind, it’s safe to say that whereas Kitty Green’s equally upsetting exploration of gender dynamics in a male-dominated environment (The Assistant, which also starred Julia Garner, focused on dehumanizing aspects of executive office jobs) was told with nuance and restraint, The Royal Hotel, while loaded with layered character dynamics and situations (it is frustratingly ugly that before Hanna and Liv even accept this job advertisement, they are told that they will be subjected to unwanted and inappropriate male attention in this area and that’s just the way it is as if that makes everything acceptable), is a much more explosive dissection and takedown of the patriarchy.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com