It’s a shock to get to the end of The Royal Hotel and learn that the story is based on actual events, as shown in the documentary Hotel Coolgardie. The film is completely plausible, but realizing the specific scenario depicted actually exists makes the knot already in your stomach tighten up even more. We all know what happens here occurs regularly in real life. Director Kitty Green reinforces how bad such behavior can be when the usual boundaries of decency and decorum don’t apply.
Hanna (Julia Garner) and Liv (Jessica Henwick) are Americans vacationing in Australia. When their party-heavy ways leave them without money, the women accept bartending jobs at the title establishment, a bar in a remote mining area that’s populated mostly by men. Their gruff boss Billy (Hugo Weaving) shows them the ropes yet leaves them unprepared for the unruly actions of the regular clientele. Hanna quickly tires of the toxic masculinity. Liv convinces her to tough it out a little longer, suggesting it should be viewed as an adventure.
The Royal Hotel focuses on what the characters face and how it impacts them. The film is impressively precise in portraying various types of sexism – both overt and passive-aggressive – that these guys are capable of when bunched together far away from the rest of civilization. Hanna and Liv deal with crude jokes, awkward passes from horny men, and constant condescension. The most alarming individual they face is Dolly (Daniel Henshall), a man who clearly enjoys intimidating them with the implication of violence.
Although not technically a thriller, the movie gets you on edge quickly, then keeps you there for the duration. The leads have one ally, Billy’s partner Carol (Ursula Yovich), who role models how not to take any guff from the males. Thanks to deeply nuanced performances from Garner and Henwick, we see how the chauvinistic behavior affects the women, even when they’re trying to take a stand. A gripping dynamic develops between them, as Hanna internalizes the sexism and Liv adopts a more “brush it off” attitude. Conflict arises in spots because their tolerance levels are different.
None of the men can be trusted. Not all of them are terrible, but part of the film’s genius is in making us unsure who’s safe and who isn’t. One of the most nerve-wracking scenes finds a local named Matty (Toby Wallace) taking them to a place where they can swim. We don’t know if he’s legitimately being nice or scheming to get them away from everybody else for a less benevolent purpose. Tension of that sort runs throughout.
The Royal Hotel builds to a conclusion that works on both a literal and symbolic level. Female viewers will identify with a lot that transpires in the story. Male viewers may uncomfortably ask themselves if they’re guilty of giving women any of this poor treatment. Aside from being really good drama, the movie has a provocative nature that is rightly impossible to shake off.
out of four
The Royal Hotel is rated R for language throughout and sexual content/nudity. The running time is 1 hour and 31 minutes.