When Kitty Green made The Assistant, she found a way to immerse you in the horrors of a Harvey Weinstein type without ever depicting the abuse. Armed with a tremendous performance from Julia Garner, you felt as shell-shocked and scarred as she was. Here with The Royal Hotel, Green is going back to that well, utilizing the same sort of discomfort and tension. It’s not as successful, but it sure does get under your skin.
The Royal Hotel isn’t quite The Assistant, but it definitely works. Green’s directorial talents have you essentially on the edge of your seat for the entire time. She also does a solid job of making you consider what this sort of experience is like in everyday life. Last time, she blew me away. This time, she’s merely made a very good film. That’s still no small achievement, to be sure.
Best friends Hanna (Garner) and Liv (Jessica Henwick) are backpacking in Australia, which is a lot of fun until they run out of money. Instead of going home, the Canadians are still open to adventure, so Liv convinces Hanna to take a temporary live-in job working behind the bar at a pub called The Royal Hotel, located in a remote mining town in the Outback. It’ll be something they can just tell everyone when they get back. If only it were that simple.
No sooner do they meet bar owner Billy (Hugo Weaving) and the locals who populate the bar, than does Hanna get a bad feeling. They give the girls a rough introduction to their drinking culture, but claim it’s innocent fun. However, Hanna refuses to see it as just that. Struggling to adjust, she sees Liv going along with the toxic masculinity more and more, to the point where she begins to worry sbout her safety.
Both Julia Garner and Jessica Henwick are very good in roles that see them have to internalize a lot. Garner was more impressive in The Assistant, but here she gets to be a bit more proactive, especially in the end. Henwick tries to have more fun, but it just puts her more at risk, which she plays quite well. The pair have excellent chemistry, too. Hugo Weaving is a bit wasted, but he’s suitably ominous. Supporting players include James Frecheville, Adam Morgan, Herbert Nordrum, Ursula Yovich, and more.
Kitty Green directs here, while she co-writes with Oscar Redding. She opens things up a lot more with this new flick, utilizing open spaces instead of cramped offices. Still, the pub itself is small and dingy, with danger seemingly lurking at every turn. That’s Green’s specialty, to be sure. I don’t think she nails the ending here, and the more movie-like moments ring a little hollow, but in turns of ratcheting up the tension, she’s damn near a master.
The Royal Hotel will not be easily shaken. Even if the narrative is a bit less focused, when it comes to the building of tension, everyone involved is clicking. I’m certainly curious to see how Green tackles this sensibility next, as she clearly has a talent for it. Smaller might be better, but either way, especially with Garner, she has something here.