Film Review: The Royal Hotel
The Royal Hotel
Director: Kitty Green
In Theaters: 10.06
It’s a rare thing these days to go into a film and truly be unsure where the narrative is headed yet still feel glued to the screen from the opening frame. Kitty Green has a rare gift for making this kind of film, and The Royal Hotel is further proof that she’s one of the most interesting filmmakers of our time.
Hanna (Julia Garner, The Assistant, Inventing Anna) and Liv (Jessica Henwick, The Matrix Resurrections, The Gray Man), two twenty-somethings from the United States, are exploring Australia on a backpacking adventure when they find that their reckless partying has run their funds dry. Desperate for a way out of this bind, Liv finds them a temporary live-in job opportunity in a remote, Outback mining town at a pub called The Royal Hotel. Despite initial reservations, Hanna agrees. Upon their arrival at the pub, they are introduced to the bar owner, Billy (Hugo Weaving, The Matrix, The Lord of the Rings), and a lively group of locals who provide them with an immersive and colorful experience of raucous, “Down Under” drinking culture. As time passes, the brash environment spirals more and more out of control, and the two friends find themselves caught in a nightmare.
Inspired by the 2016 documentary Hotel Coolgardie from director Pete Gleeson, The Royal Hotel is a tense psychological thriller that thoughtfully examines the treatment that women are expected to endure on a daily basis. Green (The Assistant, Casting JonBenet, Ukraine is Not a Brothel) challenges the very notion of what a scary suspense film has to be and what constitutes a threatening and dangerous situation. As Hanna and Liv’s time at the hotel drags on, their plight becomes more frightening by the day, yet that sense of fear is kept within real-world boundaries and avoids horror cliches. The scariest thing about The Royal Hotel is how easy it is to imagine an audience who sees the trailer and complains that they expected the plot’s situation to get so much worse. That’s exactly the point that Green is making. How intense do things have to become before we pay attention?
From the moment that Hanna and Liv arrive at the hotel, Billy saddles Hanna with a shockingly vulgar and misogynistic nickname that sticks with her the entire time (it rhymes with “blunt”). Liv tries to minimize it, arguing that “it doesn’t mean what you think it means. It’s, like, a cultural thing.” Every use of the word chips a piece of Hanna’s humanity and dignity away, and keeping her defenses up and her sanity intact becomes a full-time job. The two young women are constantly told that they need to smile more if they want to keep their jobs, and the harassment is relentless. Even the female patrons join in, as if to say “this is just the way it is.” Most disturbingly of all, while Hanna is profoundly unsettled by feeling trapped in this unacceptable world, Liv talks herself into believing it’s not that bad, that maybe she and Hanna are the real problem and they just need to lighten up and go along with it.
Garner, who made an impression working with Green in The Assistant, is a powerhouse actor, with a low-key, real-world vulnerability that makes her mesmerizing to watch. Henwick is flawless as the more easygoing and ”fun” one, as her richly layered performance slowly reveals the pain and uncertainty behind her facade. Weaving is nearly unrecognizable as the foul bar owner. The ensemble is stellar as well. James Frecheville (Animal Kingdom) is outstanding as Teeth, the most good-hearted man at the bar, creating a complex characterization that is both sympathetic and merely pathetic.
As Green used the story of Harvey Weinstein to examine gendered power dynamics and the crushing nature of misogyny, she uses The Royal Hotel to take a story from real life and turn it into a searing, thought-provoking metaphor for the world that society creates for women and the culpability of everyone who lets themselves get swept up into it. While the ending teeters on the edge of being over-the-top, it’s such a satisfying and cathartic touch that it’s hard to complain. Green has created an important and unforgettable film that truly needs to be seen, and she left me dying to see what she’s got up her sleeve for next time. –Patrick Gibbs