'The Royal Hotel' review: Engaging feminist thriller lacks bite
Courtesy of Neon
Two friends, who want to enjoy the Australian outback while trying to make a few extra bucks, end up working in a local dive bar where the residents, predominantly men and blue-collar workers, put them on edge in writer-director Kitty Green’s new thriller “The Royal Hotel.” Green’s previous film, “The Assistant,” dealt with the #MeToo movement and her latest mine as well be a spiritual companion, tackling everything from consent to toxic masculinity. It results in a tepid mediation on the mistreatment and challenges women endure in every facet of their life with an unsatisfying ending that leaves a bitter aftertaste.
Julie Garner and Jessica Henwick play Canadian pals Liv and Hanna who have conflicting personalities. The latter being a party animal eager to get out and socialize while the former likes to remain vigilant and more laid back. Garner, reteaming with her “The Assistant” director, is given the most to chew on and she once again delivers. Especially as it becomes evident her character’s new side hustle probably isn’t the safest or most secure place to work. Often having to fend off the drunk, handsy, and disorderly locals (played by Daniel Henshall, Toby Wallace, and James Freechevill) but also deal with a boss (Hugo Weaving - unrecognizable) who skimps on the paychecks.
Most of the film's tension is drawn from what happens inside the secluded location and how Liv and Hanna try to push forward in a town that only sees them as objects. Henwick gets the short end of the leash when it comes to character development as it seems the limelight is often passed to Garner and Liv’s struggles. That one character lacks depth (Hanna’s motivations and intuition to stay in Australia is never really explained) compared to the other makes for a jarring viewing experience. Likewise the final moments where “The Royal Hotel” seems to be bubbling towards a major revelation only to land with a resounding, anti-climatic thud.
Green and co-writer Oscar Redding create some intriguing set-pieces and Micheal Latham’s cinematography captures the dusty, mood lens of this woman-hungry community in a way that makes it feel authentic. But “The Royal Hotel” seldomly gels beyond those ingredients, culminating in an ardent feminist thriller that’s frustratingly content with leaving its characters stranded in the wilderness.
THE ROYAL HOTEL opens in theaters Friday, October 6th.