Backpackers Liv (Jessica Henwick) and Hanna (Julia Garner) arrive in a remote Australian Outback mining town after going broke in Sydney. Recruited by the unstable Billy (Hugo Weaving), the hard-drinking and hard-partying lifestyle of the miners soon gives way to unsettling, disturbing behaviour by the men (James Frecheville, Daniel Henshall) who frequent the Royal Hotel...
Going into 'The Royal Hotel', you can feel the echoes of Ted Kotcheff's disturbing outback horror 'Wake In Fright' - famously described by Scorsese as one of the most disturbing and unsettling movies he'd ever seen. The setup is similar - outsiders arrive into a booze-soaked Australian outback town, the isolation begins to turn people into savages, culminating in a violent confrontation. The really horrifying part of 'The Royal Hotel' is that it's based in part on the true story of Finnish backpackers from the 2016 documentary, 'Hotel Coolgardie'.
The only difference here is that the protagonists are Canadians, but the fog of casual misogyny and violent sexism that the documentary exposed remains. Much of the movie is the slow disintegration of order, wherein Jessica Henwick and Julia Garner move further and further away from reality and into the twilight, alien world that the bar exists in. There's an oddly chilling moment when one of them looks up and notes that the stars look different overhead, further highlighting just how strange their world now is. From there, however, 'The Royal Hotel' becomes sickeningly familiar.
Julia Garner and Jessica Henwick carry the movie forward, and Garner's terrorised look belies a steely resolve. James Frecheville, who Irish audiences will know from 'Black 47', plays a growling local with aplomb while Daniel Henshall plays a disturbing and vicious antagonist. Hugo Weaving, who plays the hapless bar manager, has more of an extended cameo than anything else though his performance does come with an edge.
Kitty Green's work thus far has been rooted in the idea of women placing themselves into dangerous situations. 'The Assistant' saw Julia Garner playing a lowly runner in a film production company who witnesses sexual abuse in the workplace and the dismissive acceptance of it. 'Casting JonBenet' was a fascinating, unorthodox approach to documentary, in which it turned a reenactment of the murder of JonBenét Ramsey into an examination of conspiracy and culture. Compared to something like 'Wake In Fright' or 'Straw Dogs', there's less action and more disturbance at play in 'The Royal Hotel'. The atmosphere builds and builds until the third act, when the true faces of those around them is revealed.
'The Royal Hotel' is an unsettling, disturbing movie - not as hard-hitting or as uncompromising as other movies set in this environment - but still nevertheless effective.