‘The Royal Hotel’ review: sipping pints and watching their backs | ET REALITY

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We’re barely 12 minutes into Kitty Green’s “The Royal Hotel” before the first C-word is dropped, but it’s not gratuitous. The film’s language, dominated by the braying of obnoxious drunk dogs approaching the bar, is both spice and thickening agent in its pervasive atmosphere of sticky menace. Our reward for enduring this ceaseless agitation of apprehension is not what we anticipate.

Provoking expectations (to the ultimate disappointment of some viewers, no doubt) is a big part of what this deeply calibrated thriller is about, and the familiarity of its setup raises our most bloodthirsty horror movie hopes. It places two attractive young backpackers in a desolate mining town somewhere in the Australian outback; surround them with rude, sex-starved miners; do not allow them access to cell service or reliable transportation. The trials that followed are a cyst that Green and his co-writer, Oscar Redding, take time to clear up.

Until then, we’ll have to bite our nails as Hanna and Liv (Julia Garner and Jessica Henwick, both terrific) refresh their finances by working as live-in waitresses at the titular establishment. The hotel’s deterioration (not to mention its dirty, greedy and mostly male clientele) is a far cry from the yacht parties women recently enjoyed in Sydney. The bar owner (an indispensable Hugo Weaving) is a hopeless alcoholic, but his girlfriend (Ursula Yovich) seems kind and possibly protective. And while one regular (Daniel Henshall) is downright terrifying, another (Toby Wallace) is so clean and cute that his off-color humor is easier to ignore. At what point should women feel alarmed enough to leave?

That question haunts every frame of a film that persistently torments us with the likelihood of male violence, its ruined landscapes, and its aura of desolation driven relentlessly by Michael Latham’s haunting cinematography. Green, in her second collaboration with Garner (following the similarly themed, if significantly less strident, “The Assistant” in 2020), is proving to be a brilliant chronicler of workplace abuse and the kind of harassment that masquerades as harmless fun. Sometimes a woman’s only defense is to trust the prickling skin and intestinal spasms that warn her otherwise.

Inspired by Pete Gleeson 2016 documentary about two Finnish backpackers, “Hotel Coolgardie”, “The Royal Hotel” seeks something more subtle than pure terror. In its destabilizing presentation of men whose motivations seem to shift from scene to scene (the women’s fun-loving English predecessors seem genuinely sorry to be leaving), it places the audience on a knife’s edge. This, along with the general drunkenness and oppressive sadness of the bar, can be exhausting; but Green, filming for the first time in his native Australia, shows such a sure hand with the film’s tone that even his brief slides into genre cliché (like a surprise snake and a convenient storm) do minimal damage. . Her overtly feminist climax, however, seems more problematic, a betrayal of the film’s carefully drawn ambiguities and concern for its most vulnerable characters. Hanna and Liv never looked for a fight; All they really wanted was to see some kangaroos.

The royal hotel
Rated R for women’s skin and men with thick skin. Duration: 1 hour 31 minutes. On cinemas.

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