Review: ‘Royal Hotel’ Is a Cautionary Thriller Set in the Australian Outback

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It’s every young woman’s worst nightmare: being stuck in unfamiliar territory surrounded by intimidating men.

Filmmaker Kitty Green and actress Julia Garner follow up their critically acclaimed The Assistant (2019) with The Royal Hotel, also starring Jessica Henwick. Assistant, which was unfairly criticized by as “90 minutes of nothing,” portrayed the weekly routine of a film studio assistant who is suspicious she might be complicit in unethical practices. Their new feature goes beyond “less is more” and doubles the suspense.

While backpacking through Australia, Hanna (Garner) and Liv (Henwick) learn they’ve run out of money. Since they have no current arrangement for returning home, they decide to try to make some quick cash by working as bartenders at The Royal Hotel, which operates as a pub in a remote area of the Australian Outback. But with scarce cell and wifi reception, and many rowdy, confrontational men as regulars at the bar, Hanna and Liv quickly wonder if the gig is worth sticking around.

Hugo Weaving co-stars as the pub owner, while Toby Wallace, James Frecheville, Daniel Henshall and Herbert Nordrum appear as the young men who try to grab the American girls’ attention. Oscar Redding co-wrote the screenplay with Green, drawing inspiration from Pete Gleeson’s documentary Hotel Coolgardie (2016).

The Royal Hotel reminds us of how great Green is at building tension with just general paranoia or uncertainty. Here we can sense how increasingly nervous the two ladies become from the men’s pressure and passive aggression. Garner and Henwick successfully play both natural reactions to their current situation.

Hanna carefully tries to be nice so she doesn’t provoke an attack, while Liv is more careless and convinces herself Hanna is overreacting. As in The Assistant, we get lots of silent moments and unresolved incidents, true to how they would play out in real life.

While the earlier movie was more a blunt, day-in-the-life episode, The Royal Hotel has a rounded conclusion which leans toward cliché in its final minutes, but fortunately doesn’t affect the general quality of the thriller.

The Royal Hotel takes a standard cautionary tale and gives it a unique, subdued edge, and might prove Kitty Green and Julia Garner are the new Sofia Coppola-Kirsten Dunst in independent film.