The Royal Hotel

Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5

The Royal Hotel
dir Kitty Green
scr Kitty Green, Oscar Redding
prd Iain Canning, Kath Shelper, Emile Sherman, Liz Watts
with Julia Garner, Jessica Henwick, Hugo Weaving, Toby Wallace, Ursula Yovich, Daniel Henshall, James Frecheville, Herbert Nordrum, Barbara Lowing, Baykali Ganambarr, Nic Darrigo, Adam Morgan
release US 6.Oct.23,
UK 3.Nov.23
23/Australia 1h31

garner henwick weaving
london film fest

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The Royal Hotel
Moving from playfully quirky to darkly unsettling, this slow-burn thriller isolates two young women in the rowdy misogyny of rural Australia. While playing out as a pitch black comedy, the grim underlying themes are downright chilling, as filmmaker Kitty Green explores shifting waves of control and vulnerability. As a whole, the film feels a bit undercooked, but even if the energy is heightened, scenes remain grounded in edgy realism.
From Canada, Hanna (Garner) and her best pal Liv (Henwick) are on a backpacking trip partying their way across Australia. In need of cash, they take temp jobs at the Royal Hotel pub in a remote Outback mining village, where the main pastime seems to be getting drunk. Their boss Billy (Weaving) brusquely prepares them to face the rambunctious customers. Local boy Matty (Wallace) takes them to a nearby swimming hole, but becomes pushy when he's tipsy. Bar regular Teeth (Frecheville) silently conveys a hint of menace, and Dolly (Henshall) gets downright nasty.
Struggling to come to grips with the relentlessly intense aspects of this isolated place, Hanna and Liv are unnerved by the hard drinking, scary wildlife and deep-seated prejudice against both women and indigenous people. Each situation feels like it could spiral horrifically out of control at any moment, especially as various men lay claim to Hanna and Liv. Much of this remains in between the lines, lurking like a snake waiting to strike. Where the story goes is more controlled than expected, although the final shot doesn't come as a surprise.

Seriously gifted performers, Garner and Henwick beautifully play the swirl of tensions between Hanna, who struggles against aggressive attitudes, and Liv, who more readily adapts to local culture. Their connection is vivid even when it wobbles, and both actors find terrific textures that reveal their distinct perspectives. Weaving's Billy and the surrounding miners are overconfident and outrageously profane. Played unflinchingly by a terrific supporting cast, these are good-time boys who don't know when to stop.

There seems to be no limit to the abrasive, full-on behaviour of the men in this place, so every gathering has a party-time tone that feels precariously dangerous. And Hanna and Liv are aware that they need to tread carefully if they hope to get out of here alive. This is a fiendishly clever depiction of male-female dynamics and clashing cultures. Although it's perhaps too loud for the more subtle observations woven through the acting, writing and directing.

cert 18 themes, language, violence, sexuality 10.Nov.23

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© 2023 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall