The first thing that comes to mind when I think about the Australian outback is 2005’s intensely divisive Wolf Creek. The sinister picture that Wolf Creek paints of the Aussie wilderness could put off any travel fanatic for life. In The Royal Hotel, two Canadian friends on vacation in Australia, Hanna (Julia Garner) and Liv (Jessica Henwick), have no choice but to venture out to the middle of nowhere to earn some money after blowing all of their cash partying the nights away. They reluctantly take a job at the Royal Hotel, a dingy bar miles away from any civilization. Dirtbag men are the only customers at the Royal Hotel. They constantly flirt and attempt to make jokes at Hanna and Liv, who are known to the locals as the bar’s latest “fresh meat”.
It’s apparent from the very moment that Hanna and Liv step foot into the Royal Hotel that it’s not where they belong. Landlord Billy (Hugo Weaving) teaches them the ropes behind the tiny bar almost immediately, but not before they’ve settled in on the top floor of the bar, their new home, until they’ve picked up enough cash to get back out there again. The regulars make themselves known straight away on their first shift. There’s Matty (Toby Wallace), an alluring, blue-eyed boy who takes a liking to Hanna; Teeth (James Frecheville), a man who sits at the end of the bar hoping to do shots with Liv every night; and Dolly (Daniel Henshall), whose drunken antics almost get him kicked out daily.
The Royal Hotel is primarily based on a true story. The 2016 documentary Hotel Coolgardie recounts the events that unfolded for two Finnish backpackers when they took a temporary vacation job in the Australian outback. Kitty Green’s stellar second feature in four years captures the feeling many women feel when in male-dominated spaces. Hanna and Liv should be able to work behind the bar and do their job without being catcalled whenever anyone orders a round of drinks. Knowing this exact scenario happened to two women isn’t surprising, but it shouldn’t be the norm.
Both Garner and Henwick are fantastic as leads. Hanna is the wary friend, always looking out for Liv and the messes she sometimes gets herself into. Liv likes to take shots with the locals just to be nice, but the niceness of them both is taken as a tease by the men. When Hanna decides to give Matty a chance, she feels comforted by the fact that he’s not like the other boys in town. He really isn’t much different though. While on a mini road trip to a secluded water hole, Matty pushes Hanna into the water before she’s ready, the foretelling of the events that are yet to come.
For the most part, The Royal Hotel is unsettling. There’s a constant foreboding feeling within every second of the 91-minute runtime. It’s frustrating to think how these two young women just need to make the cash to return to enjoying their holiday, but have to live in constant fear of the men around them. Green has been able to create a film that alludes to many of the distressing events that can take place when men can’t take no for an answer. The suggestiveness of the men is vile enough to sit through.
With that being said, The Royal Hotel is a must-see. Green, Garner, and Henwick are the ultimate trio. From the very start, you’re hooked into the two girls’ pursuit to get the gnarly bar job done. The events that play out leave you on the edge of your seat, wanting to give every woman in the hospitality industry the biggest hug.
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