Kitty Green’s latest psychological thriller “The Royal Hotel” brings viewers into a tense and unsettling world. The Australian writer-director, known for exploring workplace toxicity in films like “The Assistant”, reteams with star Julia Garner to deliver another intense drama grounded in realism. Co-written with Oscar Redding, the film is loosely inspired by the 2016 documentary “Hotel Coolgardie”, though Green takes the story in a more stylized, fictional direction.
“The Royal Hotel” follows American friends and travelers Liv (Jessica Henwick) and Hanna (Garner) as they find themselves stranded and broke in Australia. Desperate for work to fund their trip, they take up bartending jobs at the remote, rundown title location. But they soon realize the Royal’s gruff owner Billy (Hugo Weaving) and its aggressive, predatory clientele of drunken men create a dangerous environment especially for two young women. As situations grow increasingly volatile and the threat of violence escalates, a rift forms between the carefree Liv and cautious Hanna.
Shot on location in the harsh, beautiful South Australian Outback, “The Royal Hotel” is a tightly coiled thriller that generates almost unbearable levels of tension. Relying on atmosphere and implication rather than gore or action, Green crafts a palpable feeling of dread through the seedy, isolated setting. In this review, we’ll examine the film’s exploration of gender roles and “toxic masculinity”, its balance of character study and nerve-jangling suspense, and the standout performances from Garner and Henwick that anchor the story. By reading on, you’ll see if this frightening descent into The Royal Hotel is worth taking.
Checking Into The Royal Hotel
“The Royal Hotel” unfolds in the harsh beauty of the remote Australian Outback, where two backpackers find themselves in a sinister situation. Liv (Jessica Henwick) and Hanna (Julia Garner) are best friends traveling through Australia together. But when their funds suddenly dry up in Sydney, they desperately need money to continue their trip.
The only work they can find is bartending at The Royal Hotel, a rundown watering hole in the middle of nowhere. The local employment agency downplays the job’s challenges, vaguely warning about “a little male attention.” With no other options, Liv and Hanna catch a bus, train and ride to the isolated bar.
They meet the gruff owner Billy (Hugo Weaving) and the no-nonsense cook Carol (Ursula Yovich), the only ones exerting any control over the unruly clientele of miners and townsmen. Liv and Hanna are replacing two outgoing British girls who seemed to embrace the bar’s wild, drunken energy.
While Liv is unfazed by the environment and wants to stick it out, Hanna is uneasy from the start. Behind the bar, the men view them as “fresh meat,” relentlessly leering and making crude jokes. As the aggressive patrons push boundaries further each night, the threat of real violence slowly becomes apparent.
Among the regulars are the cheeky Matty (Toby Wallace), hulking gentle giant Teeth (James Frecheville), and the quietly menacing Dolly (Daniel Henshall). But even those who seem harmless hide darker impulses emerging when drunk and provoked.
As situations escalate, Liv brushes off the toxic behavior and gets carried away partying herself. But cautious Hanna feels increasingly trapped and focuses only on making enough money to get out. The growing divide strains their friendship, as a terrified Hanna takes drastic action she hopes will protect them.
Filmed on location at a real Outback pub, Green maintains an unnerving ambiguity about the true dangers until the very end. While mostly avoiding outright violence and gore, “The Royal Hotel” generates almost unbearable tension from its ominous setting. With Liv and Hanna isolated at the mercy of the men surrounding them, Green explores the spectrum of aggression women often face while subtly commenting on victim blaming.
Navigating Toxic Masculinity at The Royal Hotel
At its core, “The Royal Hotel” utilizes its unnerving thriller narrative to explore deeper themes around gender roles, male toxicity and the female experience. Set in the remote Australian Outback circa 1990, the film examines the dangerous but ambiguous line between rowdy male misbehavior and true ill intent. Through Liv and Hanna’s tense journey, writer-director Kitty Green provokes thought about culpability, victimhood and women’s constant need for vigilance and caution around men.
The Royal Hotel itself is an embodiment of rugged hypermasculinity, a place where the usually all-male clientele bond through drunken vulgarity and aggression aimed at the rare women passing through. While behaviors range from relatively harmless to more sinister, there is a continuum of diminishing female humanity. By treating Liv and Hanna as sexual commodities and verbal punching bags, the men deny them basic dignity and agency.
Yet as newcomers to this world, Liv and Hanna also misjudge the situation initially. Their different responses reveal complex questions about women’s internalized societal messaging. Liv wants to be considered “chill” and seeks the men’s approval, while wary Hanna is blamed for overreacting to “jokes.” Victim blaming mentalities emerge as the women are pressured to allow mistreatment or risk being labeled uptight.
None of the male characters are pure villains, but nor do they clearly subvert toxicity. Even well-meaning Matty harbors entitled nice guy tendencies, growing angry when he doesn’t get his way with Hanna. Billy enables the environment through indifference, while Carol has reluctantly accepted the boys will be boys status quo. Dolly represents the scariest possibility of where diminishing female humanity can lead. But Green avoids simplistic gender war binaries, exploring how social conditioning shapes the characters’ mentalities and actions.
Green similarly utilizes the Australian Outback setting to reflect on regional cultural attitudes regarding gender at the time. The isolation and lack of authority figures breed lawlessness, allowing the men’s baser natures to thrive unchecked. Yet there are suggestions of a wider systemic misogyny. The employment agency callously sends Liv and Hanna into the lion’s den, while the police barely react to Hanna’s assault report. The film argues toxicity and violence against women are not just individual moral failings but ingrained cultural problems.
Ultimately, “The Royal Hotel” lands on a note of female empowerment and retribution. But it pointedly does not absolve Liv and Hanna of their missteps, with Hanna nearly compromising herself in her desperation to be liked early on. Green argues women should not have to walk such a fine line, but neither are they absolved of self-examination. In the end, the film resists easy labels of victims, villains and heroes in favor of a sometimes uncomfortable moral complexity.
Immersive Cinematography and Captivating Performances
On a visual level, “The Royal Hotel” immediately pulls viewers into its seedy, ominous setting through immersive cinematography and production design. Australian cinematographer Michael Latham films the Outback with a desaturated palette, dominated by browns and greys that feel subtly bleak. The bar’s interiors are even more stripped down, with dingy lighting and walls scrawled with years of crude graffiti.
Deep focus shots frame Liv and Hanna as isolated figures against the endless desert, conveying their vulnerability. Much of the film utilizes handheld cameras for increased tension, putting us right amidst the mayhem of the bar. Even mundane daytime scenes feel off-kilter, with wide shots and odd angles breeding unease. The electronic score by Brodinski punctuates the action with pulsing rhythms and drones straight out of a horror film.
At the center of it all are compelling performances from leads Julia Garner and Jessica Henwick. As Hanna, Garner once again proves her mastery at portraying tense, coiled-up characters on the verge of snapping. With her ramrod posture and thousand-yard stare, Hanna seems constantly on high alert, with Garner vividly conveying her escalating panic. Henwick provides an effective counterpoint as the more relaxed Liv, more difficult to read and hiding her motivations behind a party-girl facade.
In key supporting turns, Hugo Weaving is unrecognizable under a beard and unkempt hair as Billy, citing Shane Meadows’ This Is England as inspiration for his bigoted, belligerent bar owner. Daniel Henshall continues his tradition of playing chilling antagonists as the predatory Dolly. Wallace and Frecheville lend nuance to characters that could have been simple meathead archetypes.
But Garner remains the standout, her expressive face telegraphing Hanna’s shifting emotions from moment to moment. A bartender’s forced smile becomes a horrified grimace crossing Dolly’s path. In one scene, she goes from cautiously laughing to fighting back tears in a matter of seconds. Hanna’s external toughness barely conceals her inner turmoil, with Garner enabling us to viscerally feel her dread.
The raw performances combined with Green’s documentary-style realism make “The Royal Hotel” an utterly convincing descent into a menacing environment. When Hanna hisses at Liv, “I don’t feel safe here,” her palpable fear leaps off the screen. The film provides an absorbing character study feasible through Garner and Henwick’s committed performances, grounding the thriller in emotional truth.
Simmering Tension in a Pressure Cooker Environment
Even more than its thriller storyline, “The Royal Hotel” sustains itself through maintaining an almost unbearably ominous atmosphere from start to finish. Writer-director Kitty Green demonstrates a masterful command of tone, patiently turning up the heat until the pressure reaches a boiling point. The film largely substitutes dread for visceral violence and horror, wringing suspense from the interminable sense things could explode at any moment.
From Hanna and Liv’s arrival, Green methodically piles on details setting us on edge. The remote setting, decrepit bar exterior and leering welcome establish an environment where the normal rules of society don’t apply. Much of the tension stems from the ambiguity of not knowing characters’ true intentions beneath drunken facades.
Low camera angles and claustrophobic framing constantly reinforce the women’s powerlessness. Even simple transitions like following Liv up the stairs to their quarters become fraught. The electronic score drones ominously whenever the threat of violence seems to rear its head.
Green manipulates audience sympathies and expectations masterfully. A scene of Hanna accompanying Matty to a swimming hole first seems idyllic before subtly shifting as his behavior grows possessive. Comedy relief from goofy tourist Torsten lulls us into complacency before giving way to darker realities.
The closest the film comes to outright horror is during the nightmarish climax as Hanna faces off against Dolly. Green relies on sounds and shadows more than graphic visuals to convey the terror. For much of the runtime, she amplifies the tension by keeping the actual violence largely off-screen.
Yet Green avoids simplistic illusions of women in peril, instead portraying Liv and Hanna’s inner conflicts. Hanna’s distrust competes with her desire to prove herself fun-loving, while Liv’s nonchalance masks deeper insecurity. Much of the strain between them comes from clashing attitudes rather than external threats.
The director also throws in occasional curveballs to keep us off-balance. A scene starts ominously before revealing it’s just an enthusiastic sexual encounter. In the very first shot, screams turn out to be delighted singing. Throughout the film, Green exploits the ambiguity between laughs and cries.
By drifting from interpersonal drama to almost agonizing suspense and back again, Green maintains an unpredictable, seesawing rhythm. The Royal Hotel becomes a pressure cooker perpetually threatening to erupt into violence, even during the characters’ quietest moments.
Highlights and Shortcomings
As an exercise in sustained tension and palpable atmosphere, “The Royal Hotel” largely succeeds on its own terms. Kitty Green clearly knows how to ratchet up dread through nerve-jangling sound, ambiguous visuals and a commanding pace. Backed by the lead duo’s committed performances, the film pulls viewers into its nightmarish scenario to an almost suffocating degree.
By keeping actual violence largely off-screen, Green forces us to imagine worst-case outcomes, maximizing suspense. She toys with expectations masterfully, lulling the audience into lowered guards before punctuating with shocks. The director’s grounded approach means the scares arise organically from the characters and environment.
However, some may find the film’s ending a bit too tidy in providing a decisive confrontation and resolution. After mostly avoiding pat cliches, Green succumbs to a few revenge thriller tropes that seem overly satisfying. The conclusion also rushes to tie up loose ends, cutting off the unsettling ambiguity that gives the film its power.
While Garner is reliably superb as Hanna, Henwick receives a less developed role on the page, largely playing the oblivious friend. We get limited insight into her inner motivations or backstory. The supporting men also verge on one-note caricatures, from noble Matty to villainous Dolly. Most characters fit neatly into archetypes that serve the plot rather than acting as fully realized figures.
With the story staying mainly within the bar’s confines, “The Royal Hotel” can also feel visually restricted. Aside from some gorgeous overhead landscape shots, Green fails to take full advantage of the Outback’s epic scope. A change of scenery at times could open up the tight focus.
Nonetheless, the film succeeds enormously as a visceral emotional experience. Green intimately captures the push and pull of female anxiety, camaraderie and internalized misogyny. While perhaps not a thematic groundbreaker, the film preserves a laser focus on mood and moment-to-moment tension. For those seeking an immersive descent into a social nightmare, “The Royal Hotel” should fully satisfy.
Checking Out With Lingering Unease
For viewers seeking a deeply unsettling thriller grounded in real-world horrors, “The Royal Hotel” will provide an absorbing if grueling experience. Kitty Green proves herself a master of slowly ratcheting up tension through precise atmospherics and technical skill. While the story borders on B-movie pulp on the surface, Green intelligently explores more resonant themes related to gender roles and toxic masculinity.
Backed by committed performances and Green’s documentary-style direction, the film feels painfully authentic even at its most heightened. As an exercise in sustained tone and dread, “The Royal Hotel” engrosses and disturbs in equal measure. The director strings audiences along masterfully, manipulating expectations and perspective to keep us unbalanced.
While the plot can feel familiar at times, Green infuses it with enough complexity and moral ambiguity to avoid pat conclusions. Some may desire more nuance in the characterizations and a less tidy ending. But overall, “The Royal Hotel” provides an evocative glimpse at a social nightmare that resonates beyond its specific characters and setting.
The haunting final image lingers to remind us of the film’s most crucial insight – that unexamined male entitlement and hostility still permeates many supposed bastions of masculine community. By compellingly realizing this culture of diminishing female humanity, Green makes “The Royal Hotel” a journey worth experiencing, even through its darkest corridors.
The Royal Hotel
"The Royal Hotel" is an atmospheric and intense thriller that explores gender roles and toxic masculinity effectively. Julia Garner's standout performance as Hanna and the film's tension-building qualities make it a gripping experience. However, the ending feels too neat, some characters lack depth, and the scenic potential of the Outback is underutilized. Despite its flaws, it offers an authentic and thought-provoking narrative, earning a solid 8 out of 10 stars.
- Excellent atmosphere and tension-building - the film slowly ratchets up dread through sound, cinematography, etc.
- Strong lead performance from Julia Garner as the increasingly panicked Hanna
- Ambiguous exploration of gender roles and toxicity without clear heroes/villains
- Authentic exploration of internalized misogyny and victim blaming mentalities
- Hugo Weaving delivers a grimy, domineering performance as Billy
- Realistic, documentary-style direction grounds even the most extreme moments
- The ending feels too clean/satisfying compared to the rest of the film
- Jessica Henwick's character Liv is not as fully developed
- Supporting male characters verge on one-dimensional caricatures
- Could have taken better advantage of the outback visuals
- Story is restricted to the confines of the bar, lacking change of scenery
- Plot itself can feel familiar at times to the thriller genre
- Conclusion tidies up loose ends too quickly rather than leaving some ambiguity