Movie: THE ROYAL HOTEL
Rating: R, language
Release Date: October 6, 2023
Jeanne: Two friends from America, Hanna (Julia Garner) and Liv (Jessica Henwick), are backpacking through Australia --- and run out of money. To make a few bucks so they can continue their “beach” vacation, the besties take jobs as bartenders in a pub called The Royal Hotel. Director Kitty Green’s newest film, THE ROYAL HOTEL, is a menacing thriller which ultimately fails to deliver.
The idea to get jobs is Liv’s. Hanna is not exactly thrilled, especially since the location of this drinking establishment in an Outback mining town is so remote. Owned by Billy (Hugo Weaving), a raging alcoholic, the bar is about as skanky as it gets. As a huge fan of dive bars, even I would be skeptical of The Royal Hotel. The girls live on the second floor above the pub in a set of nasty rooms with flimsy doors offering questionable locks.
Viewed by the mostly male patrons as “fresh meat”, Hanna and Liv settle into their new digs and begin tending bar. Billy’s girlfriend, Carol (Ursula Yovich), cooks the food in the pub and basically manages the day-to-day operations as Billy’s health is failing. She offers little guidance to the new employees, but somehow just her presence is reassuring.
Matty (Toby Wallace), one of the younger patrons, immediately takes a shine to Hanna. And though Dolly (Daniel Henshall) sits in the same spot at the bar every night staring at Hanna, he seems to fancy Liv, despite the fact he’s been warned off by Teeth (James Frecheville), who has claimed Liv for himself. Though Matty seems genuinely nice, Hanna isn’t interested --- and she’s completely spooked by Dolly. Liv just goes along to get along, taking turns getting drunk with both Dolly and Teeth.
After a particularly unnerving episode at the bar with Dolly obnoxiously harassing Hanna --- and an older couple who stopped in for a drink to celebrate their 35th wedding anniversary --- she decides that they must leave. The men are getting increasingly out of hand and Billy is no help. Liv remains resolute in her decision to stay until things do get out of hand.
Written by Green and Oscar Redding, her film school friend, THE ROYAL HOTEL never fulfills its potential as the nail-biter it should have been. Scene after scene builds to a crescendo, then fizzles. There is constant dread that these two women are in peril, but the screenwriters never capitalize on those opportunities.
It's obvious that Dolly is psychotic, but when Hanna freaks out that he and a couple of other men are taking the very inebriated Liv for a ride --- then proceeds to flatten two of his tires with an axe --- Dolly does nothing. And when he finally attempts to break into their bedroom, it’s not what was anticipated. Hanna sustains a head wound from the axe after a tussle with Matty and Dolly runs off.
I’m certainly not suggesting I wanted anything bad to happen to the girlfriends, but THE ROYAL HOTEL’s ending is supremely anti-climactic. At one point, Hanna is explaining how weak and vulnerable she is --- and then she’s wielding a deadly weapon --- and burning down the pub. It just doesn’t add up, nor is any of this compelling drama.
Garner and Henwick do share a believable best friend chemistry, which helps propel the narrative. But there are so many unanswered questions like what were they running from in America --- it’s briefly mentioned then dropped. Liv ran out of money, but did Hanna? And how are they able to simply walk away from setting The Royal Hotel ablaze? In my frustration with this film, I can honestly say I don’t care.
Opinion: Don’t Bother!
David: When two pretty young American women interview for a job in the remote Australian Outback, they are told by the interviewer (Bree Bain) that as bartenders they should prepare for a lot of male attention. The pair get that and more in THE ROYAL HOTEL which establishes a feeling of foreboding and never lets up.
Hanna (Julia Garner) and Liv (Jessica Henwick), looking for adventure, travel to a remote part of Australia to earn some much-needed cash for their vacation. They end up at the local pub known as The Royal Hotel, home to a hard-drinking, rambunctious and mostly male, local clientele. The denizens in this town have one social activity --- imbibing in the pub --- sometimes to oblivion.
Co-writer/director Kitty Green (THE ASSISTANT) based her movie on a documentary called HOTEL COOLGARDIE about two young Scandinavian women who are trapped in a remote mining town. She conceived, along with Oscar Redding, a similar story for THE ROYAL HOTEL featuring two attractive females who experience unease and potential threats doing their work as bartenders. As the story progresses, some of the male patrons, Matty (Toby Wallace) and Teeth (James Frecheville), are friendly enough while at least one, Dolly (Daniel Henshall), is quite something else.
Matty is smitten with Hanna and while he seems safe and normal, we’re never confident of that. He does offer a nice rendition of “Locomotion”, the hit song by Little Eva, to further our belief that he’s okay. Teeth is a bit more intimidating because of his physical appearance. But Dolly is definitely an overt threat.
Garner, of course, is well known to fans of Netflix’s “OZARK” for which she has earned many honors. She worked with Green on THE ASSISTANT and was sought after for the role of Hanna. As the more reluctant of the two friends, Garner is quite effective as the self-proclaimed weakling --- fearful of this new environment. But she’s also not afraid to order patrons out of the bar and order them home. However, her character seems to go off the rails at the end, fueled by liquor. Henwick plays Liv as more daring and trusting. She is an annoying character because she invites potential trouble for Hanna and herself. For this reason, we are not so sympathetic towards Liv.
Hugo Weaving plays Billy, the owner of the pub, with a drinking problem of his own. He’s at times kind to Hanna and Liv, yet equally condescending to them. Weaving achieves a good balance between the two. Billy provides much of the foreboding atmosphere because he's not trustworthy, by Hanna and Liv or the viewing audience. Ursula Yovich is Billy’s girlfriend, Carol, the one character who seems normal. She befriends them and orders Billy to pay them their wages.
Regardless of how anyone feels about the unexpected ending, this film is intriguing because we really have no clue how things may wrap up. Will some harm come to Hanna and/or Liv? Will they remain friends? Will they ultimately leave Australia for their own safety? And Green asks the question “should they leave at all?”
The aforementioned documentary had a “bleak and miserable” ending, per Green, so she wanted Hanna and Liv to ultimately be triumphant in THE ROYAL HOTEL and end her movie “with a bang”. On that score she has succeeded.
Opinion: Wait for VOD