Hanna and Liv are two Canadian girls who choose to embark on a backpacking trip to Australia. The best friends, Hanna played by Julia Garner and Liv by Jessica Henwick, after running out of money are forced to work in a bar in a remote outback mining town. There the girls meet Billy, the bar owner, along with a number of locals who introduce them to a certain culture, especially that of drinking. Writer and director Kitty Green takes the most ordinary setting and makes it a sickening psychological thriller. Moments of terror, Gen Z style, when Hanna asks for the wifi password only to be greeted by fragrant, ambiguous laughter that echoes throughout. But things get even worse, the story becomes unnerving and suggests lurking violence in the men who run the bar and constantly drink. The pub owners are played by Hugo Weaving and his partner Carol, Ursula Yovich, whose relationship is punctuated and characterized by frequent outbursts of violence. There was probably once love between her and Billy, but now she is mostly there to keep him from drinking himself to death and to distance the mine workers from the girls she hires to keep the pub open.
“Americans really think that Hugo Weaving’s character is terrifying from the first moment, whereas Australians think he’s alright. There’s very different reads of the movie. I think Brits are more on the Aussies’ side, and understand that a little more. It’s probably perfect for Brits.”
The already frayed relationship between Hanna and Liv is further tested as the relationship with the locals grows, especially on Liv’s part. They meet Matty (Toby Wallace), who has an immediate soft spot for Hanna. There is Teeth (James Frecheville), whose bumbling sweetness hides a troubling obsession. And there is Dolly (Daniel Henshall), whose menacing gaze is not at all reassuring. While Liv increasingly embraces the men’s party mentality, Hanna remains more reserved, aware of the danger behind a drunken man’s charm. As the microaggressions pile up and become more and more annoying for Hanna and Liv, the plot reaches a breaking point. The viewer and the protagonists are called to question how the persistent threat of violence should be handled. The realization that reacting physically is unwise, being outnumbered, places the friends in a position of harsh oppression; such is the case with one of Hanna’s few reactions, when while trying to chase away a client she is laughed at in front of everyone, causing a great sense of frustration to grow in her.
“The plot plays a bit with the genre itself. It’s not necessarily a zombie movie, but alcohol is infecting everyone. The more they get drunk, the less trustworthy they are, and it turns into a pack mentality where no one is safe. Zombies also infect Liv. She falls into that culture.”
The two plot writers – Green and Redding – state that the initial inspiration was Pete Gleeson’s 2016 documentary Hotel Coolgardie, an excellent investigation of the sexism suffered by Finnish packbackers when they went to work in isolated pubs near mining towns in their twenties. There is no shortage of references to Ted Kotcheff’s cult film Wake in Fright: a true exploration of the alcoholic, violent, and frenzied culture of the Outback from the point of view of a school teacher who slowly succumbs to his madness. The Royal Hotel focuses on how this specific violence, which can manifest physically, emotionally, and psychologically, affects the well-being of young women and makes them unwitting victims of a macho system. To immerse us in this continuous and enduring sense of oppression, there are no real surprises in the plot, but rather long moments of bewilderment, instability, and emotional perdition. Kitty Green in the film carries out a biting and chilling examination aimed at depicting the toxic culture fueled by alcoholism in those territories.
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