The piece below was written during the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike. Without the labor of the actors currently on strike, the art being covered in this piece wouldn't exist.
Greeting the viewer at the open of Kitty Green’s The Royal Hotel is a club mix of Men at Work’s “Down Under,” immediately setting the scene. Canadian tourists Hanna (Julia Garner in her second collaboration with the Australian director after The Assistant) and Liv (Jessica Henwick, Glass Onion) are in their twenties and blithely partying away their last dime in Sydney. The only work they can find is bartending at a pub in a mining town hours from anywhere. To most women/non-male identifying folks, this place would sound like bad news. And it is!
From the alcoholic pub owner’s (a barely recognizable Hugo Weaving) randomly tossing out the c-word at the gals in their first meeting to the sexist jokes continually cracked by the rowdy male customers, the misogyny kicks off and rarely takes a break. It’s a nightmarish situation for the two women and makes for uncomfortable viewing, especially for anyone who keenly knows how hard such disparaging language and behavior hits. Toxic masculinity, rape culture and loneliness, along with access to lots of alcohol, make for an intense combination.
While they aren’t the only women in the pub, it seems the few others are either ignoring it to just get by or join in the harassment themself. Cook Carol (Ursula Yovich) tries to speak up for the younger women, but is preoccupied by the downward spiral of her partner Billy (Weaving). Carol seems to be keeping things in check, so what happens if she’s not there?
Green’s adaptation (co-written with Oscar Redding) of 2016 documentary Hotel Coolgardie is a low-key thriller. An overwhelming feeling of malice and danger pervades the film. At any moment, one of these creepy guys could attack. Garner’s Hanna is aware of her surroundings and upset by the behavior of the miners in the pub — and is thus bestowed with a misogynist nickname because of her angry response. Her fury and rage rise as days pass. Garland seamlessly transitions in her role from a more trusting person at the start of the film to a vengeful woman. Meanwhile Liv is frustratingly oblivious to the situation and slower on the uptake. Henwick instills her character with such a naive and easygoing nature that the viewer (and Hanna) constantly worries for her.
The Royal Hotel kept this critic on the edge of my seat, not because of any possible jump scare, but due to the constant threat of violence and harassment to the young women on screen. Green’s film is a disturbing, almost exhausting, experience, but I hope people make time to sit with it.
The Royal Hotel opens in select cities Friday, October 6.