The Royal Hotel

Canadian Hanna ("The Assistant's" Julia Garner) is enjoying the company of Scandinavian tourist Torsten (Herbert Nordrum, "The Worst Person in the World") on a booze cruise on Sydney Harbor when her traveling companion, Liv (Jessica Henwick, "Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery"), approaches to ask Hanna for her credit card as hers was just declined.  Hanna’s a bit taken aback by her friend’s nonchalant attitude about their finances and the next day finds the two in a local employment office, where they agree to make some quick cash tending bar in the Outback at “The Royal Hotel.”

Laura's Review: B-

While tonally, cowriter (with Oscar Redding)/director Kitty Green’s ("The Assistant") sophomore film always seems to be on the verge of becoming an update on “Wake in Fright,” the 70’s classic which suggests denizens of the Australian Outback are naturally barbaric, with two female protagonists instead of one male, it stays perpetually on the brink of outright horror.  It may be a bit flippant to say, but instead it is more of a cautionary tale about choosing your traveling companions wisely. 

A drone shot emphasizes the remoteness of the girls’ new environment when they’re dropped off in the middle of relentless, dusty nowhere by a bus.   They are picked up by Carol (Ursula Yovich, "Australia"), the terse Aboriginal chef and partner of hotel owner Billy (Hugo Weaving), whose only instructions to the two upon their arrival is ‘down the hall and up the stairs.’  There they’ll find their room still inhabited by the two young Englishwomen, apparently still drunk from the night before, who’ve been doing the job they’re about to assume, and, they’ll encounter Billy in the bathroom while attempting to shower, both only clad in towels.

After a crash course on running the register by Billy, Liv begins to connect with the locals, noting ‘that’ll be us soon’ as their prior counterparts flash customers from atop the bar.  Hanna’s aghast, especially after one of the lone female regulars, Glenda (Barbara Lowing, "Secrets & Lies"), calls her a ‘smart c*&t.’  Matty (Toby Wallace, "Babyteeth") pulls a lewd prank on Liv while Teeth (James Frecheville, "Animal Kingdom") asks her out.  Dolly (Daniel Henshall, "The Snowtown Murders") seems intent on intimidating Hanna and their boss, Billy, gets falling down drunk.  After one day at The Royal Hotel, Hanna wants to leave, uncomfortable with every single aspect of their situation.

As in “The Assistant,” Julia Garner’s subdued display of dread and discomfort anchors the film, but while Green’s first was a slow burn all the way through, escalating to a shattering climax, this one spins its wheels, everything we need to know about the place given in that first impression.  It’s all really a build to just what it will take for Liv to call foul, and it is anti-climactic, its resolution an unsatisfying cinematic cliché.

Still, the acting is to be commended all around, Weaving giving us something we’ve never seen before.  As the three most prominent bar regulars, Wallace keeps us off balance, Henshall is clearly bad news and Frecheville is something of a knight in shining armor, Neanderthal style.

Green has thought up a number of suggestive provocations to maintain interest, so the film is never dull.  The most impressive of these is relatively low key, but says everything about these antagonists, Hanna asking a harmless looking older miner, a heavyset man resembling Santa, for a light for a birthday cake candle, only to be wordlessly handed a Zippo adorned with a naked, large breasted woman

Robin's Review: B-

Canadians Liv (Jessica Henwick) and Hanna (Julie Garner) are backpacking through the Australian outback but run out of money. They take a job at a pub in a remote mining town and the locals totally welcome them. But, things are not as they seem and go rapidly out of control in “The Royal Hotel.”

Director and writer (with co-scribe Oscar Redding) Kitty Green takes the story to the middle-of-nowhere mining town where the sole social distraction is the titular pub. The ladies are assigned to tend bar and deal with the boisterous clientele by the owner, Billy (Hugo Weaving). Liv takes to the new situation right away. Hanna, though, has her misgivings and a sense of foreboding sets in.

Filmmaker Green pulls a sleight of hand with this tale of tension, at least through Hanna’s eye, that, combined with the taut soundtrack, leads the viewer to believe that something wicked this way comes. It does not.

What we do have here is a character strudy by Julie Garner, as Hanna, of a woman who finds herself in over her head in a place where there is no way out. The building desperation she feels as things start to spiral out of her control is palpable. There is a sinister sense to the locals but not one of real horror.

The townsfolk that inhabit the pub are the usual collection of colorful locals as the patrons revel into the night. Things like a creepy guy who appears to be a stalker, unpleasant events that make Hanna increasingly uncomfortable and a sense of being trapped make the viewer think that the film is something it is not.

The sought after horror element could be construed as Hanna’s sense of helplessness and fear. The fact that Liv does not see her friend’s concerns shows that their friendship is only skin deep and Hanna is, mostly, on her own. Garner centers her role and dominates the film – except for an interesting performance by Hugo Weaving as pub owner Billy.

Green does put us into the hot and dusty outback town in the land down under. But, it is not a place that I would visit anytime soon.

Neon releases "The Royal Hotel" in theaters on 10/6/23.