2023 | rated R | starring Julia Garner, Jessica Henwick and Hugo Weaving | directed by Kitty Green | 1h 31m |
Taking part in a travel work program, Canadian friends Hannah (Julia Garner) and Liv (Jessica Henwick) are assigned to a run down pub/hotel in the a deserted mining area of the Australian outback where they deal with unruly locals and a shifty alcoholic manager (Hugo Weaving, unrecognizable). As the week goes on the the customers behavior gets increasingly unnerving forcing Hannah and Liv out of their comfort zone.
Kitty Green slow-burned her way onto the scene in 2020 with the sleeper The Assistant, a smart, well-done highlight of the year that told a Harvey Weinstein era harassment story as if through the lens of a Chantel Ackerman day-in-the-life drama. The Assistant was a better Weinstein movie than the Weinstein movie She Said is. Green again teams of with Julia Garner for their follow-up and The Royal Hotel is a slightly more genre-leaning film for those turned off by the coldness of The Assistant. It’s still a Kitty Green movie and it doesn’t go on auto-pilot, but it shows an impressive range for the director to be able to hit these light thriller notes and construct a lived-in character drama out of this thin premise.
I kind of adored The Royal Hotel. Garner never disappoints and she has great friend chemistry with Henwick here. They make passing comments about trying get across the world to “escape” their lives but you get the sense that the two have been friends forever without the movie telling us that. They bounce off each other well, with Liv, the more outgoing and Hannah the more reserved of the two. Feeling out these character’s fears and boundaries as the situation around them unfolds is part of what’s so rewarding about the film. For those put off by the lack of plot in The Assistant, The Royal Hotel takes it’s time to move through the story beats, but it does hit them, focusing on Hannah’s arc to stand up for herself. Garner is typically great with Hannah’s unease.
Green spends much of her time in the pub, give Royal a theatrical feeling. She immerses us in the grim of the place and gives it a rich lived-in feeling. She fleshes out the bar patrons and keeps us guessing about who the good guys and bad guys really are. This isn’t Barbie, this is a nuanced and more subtle feminist movie where the “nice guys” are the ones to watch out for the most, but we aren’t pushed toward a message. These men are can be threats, but they are also muti-dimensional characters with different motives. Green drains the movie of hope each time she sets up one of the nice guys and heel-turns them into a creep too. That’s sort of the point, and the source of the film’s anxiety – nobody is coming to save you.
The Royal Hotel has been poorly marketed. It has it’s moments of unease, but it’s not a horror movie or a thriller. It’s more of a drama, a character-piece of these two friends at the end of the Earth where life is rough. It doesn’t go on rails and suddenly become a slasher or stalker movie. It doesn’t have Hannah and Liv arm up and take blood-lusty revenge on their tormentors – as much as part of me would have been ok with that. Imagine if an Eli Roth Hostel/ “dangers of the world” movie didn’t take the easy genre route. It’s turns are all more realistic and yet it satisfies. And that’s why I loved it. Skillfully done.