Film: The Royal Hotel

Kitty Green’s The Assistant was a quiet masterpiece of tense visual story-telling, depicting, with suspense and empathy, a young woman’s toxic work environment. As director and co-writer of The Royal Hotel (2023), she reunites with star Julia Garner for another tale of misogynistic terror. The results aren’t nearly as subtle, but they’re similarly gripping.

Garner stars as Hanna, a Canadian teen traveling in Australia with her bestie Liv (Jessica Henwick). When the duo runs out of money in Sydney, they enlist in a work-travel program, becoming bartenders at a remote, ramshackle pub in the Outback. Hours from the nearest town, Hanna and Liv look to make the best of things, serving a rough local community of miners and “blow-ins” who got sucked into the area for work and never escaped. The Royal, owned by slowly disintegrating blowhard Billy (Hugo Weaving) and his capable, long-suffering partner Carol (Ursula Yovich), initially gives Hanna the creeps. With Liv’s encouragement, she sticks it out in the hopes they can make enough money to resume their carefree vacation. But the job subjects them to a regular diet of sexist abuse and harrassment, finally escalating into full-blown conflict with the local men.

Based on a documentary, The Royal Hotel is a tense, uncomfortable watch, as a situation that already starts out dicey becomes increasingly hostile and terrifying. Garner is exceptional in this type of role, and she is again here, with Henwick charismatically supporting as her more cavalier, roll-with-it friend. The scenario has a horror-film set-up, its innocent characters walking into the sketchy scene only to see it grow sketchier as events unfold. It doesn’t take long to see where the film is going, so it’s just a matter of watching it get there—which, given the biopic-like plot beats, isn’t terribly surprising. The Assistant built its quiet mystique by letting the visuals and action paint an unnerving picture. The Royal Hotel’s filmmaking techniques are similarly well executed, but in service to a blunter narrative that goes in a telegraphed direction. Still, the film is quite well constructed, Garner and Henwick shine, and there are numerous shades of effective chauvanist villainy on display from Weaving, James Frecheville, Daniel Henshall, Herbert Nordrum, and Toby Wallace. I wouldn’t call it a must-watch, but folks who appreciated the earlier Green-Garner team-up will find similar assets on display here.

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