This piece was written during the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labour of the actors currently on strike, the movie/series/feature being covered here wouldn't exist.
BY JACK RANSOM NOVEMBER 7, 2023
Very much another film to add to the ever-growing “good for her” sub-genre of thrillers (including Promising Young Woman, Men, Ready or Not, Birds of Prey and more). Director Kitty Green builds upon the established subtle unease and menace of the patriarchy in the workplace with 2019’s The Assistant, with a dark, knuckle whitening and uncomfortable straight-to-the-point feature, that tears down the walls of the looming out of sight threat in her previous feature, to put the gratuitous, relentless, sleazy, alcohol infused nature of toxic masculinity at the forefront.
The Royal Hotel sees Canadian backpackers Hanna (Julia Garner) and Liv (Jessica Henwick) take a job in a remote Australian pub for some extra cash and are confronted with a bunch of unruly locals and a situation that grows rapidly out of their control.
The film is paced effectively over the course of its short duration. Quickly establishing Hanna and Liv’s situation and instantaneously setting a grubby, uneasy and inflammatory tone to the proceedings once they arrive into the small town mining community where the titular bar resides. As the film progresses we see the pair’s interactions with the locals, the intensity and allure of elements of the job and in the final third, the explosive, visceral boiling point that culminates.
Though the narrative is straightforward in execution (and familiar in terms of some plot beats) there are enough tidbits of information be invested in the recurring smaller supporting roles and the clashing personalities between the lead friendship. I will say, as satisfying and cathartic as the finale is, is quite hurried in execution and ends somewhat suddenly.
The film was shot on location in South Australia and the middle of nowhere location is captured perfectly. The isolation, loneliness, radiating boredom (booze and sunbathing in dried up litter fuelled pools take up the days) and lack of any sort of external help pulsates on the screen. The grimy, dirty, sweaty filter to the cinematography enhances the atmosphere and contrasts nicely against the scenic vast bursts of natural beauty that make up the Australian outback. The final third showcases Green’s thriller/horror stylistic direction chops in brutal and uncompromising fashion.
Both Julia Garner and Jessica Henwick have a genuine sense of friendship chemistry between them. The former’s more reserved, concerned and strong willed personality gels and clashes with the latter’s playful, optimistic, engaged and more easily led effectively. Hugo Weaving’s tragic, burnout, hard edged, drunkard bar owner clearly is dealing with substantial issues and his performance allows flutters of genuine concern and care to slip through the anger and booze fuelled cracks. Ursula Yovich’s hardened, worn down yet dedicated chef and both Daniel Henshall and Toby Wallace’s scummy, intimidating repeat customers deliver memorable supporting performances.
The Royal Hotel is a very solid, tense and gritty thriller that manages to strike a chord with its prominent messages and themes. The performances are strong across the board, the intimate, isolated setting and anxiety inducing atmosphere consistently wrap around the viewer and though the final sequence feels a little rushed, it’s still a satisfying conclusion.