danger down under
Young Americans on vacation run into trouble in Australian-set The Royal Hotel
Writer/director Kitty Green’s debut fiction film, 2019’s The Assistant, was a fantastic take on the #MeToo movement, a clarion call to hold people in authority accountable for their wrongful actions. She has reteamed with that film’s star, Julia Garner, for her new film, The Royal Hotel, which once again pits young women against predatory men, but in a completely different way.
Hanna (Garner) and Liv (Jessica Henwick) are two Americans in Australia on vacation. A very brief and slightly confusing introduction shows that they are low on money, causing them to apply for temporary jobs. Instead of somewhere near Sydney or another city, however, they are assigned to a bar/restaurant in a remote mining town. It’s clear as soon as they arrive that their accommodations, many of the people, and the town itself are sketchy.
The first impression is borne out on their first night at work. Billy (Hugo Weaving, almost unrecognizable with gray hair and heavy beard), their sexist, drunkard boss, is no help, they have to fend off advances from miners looking to blow off steam, and the free-flowing beer leads to a general feeling of chaos. Hanna and Liv are soon to find out that their arrival comes at a crucial turning point for The Royal Hotel.
Green fills the film with men with varying personalities. Billy is close to useless, but bar worker/patron Kev (Nic Darrigo) pitches in and shows Hanna and Liv around the limited landscape. Dolly (Daniel Henshall) is menacing from the start, a guy named Teeth (James Frecheville) is an introvert who develops a crush on Liv, and Torsten (Herbert Nordrum) is a Swede also on vacation who swings into town to hang out.
All of those men, and the instability of the town as a whole, seem to point toward a certain kind of story that puts Hanna and Liv in danger. And while Green goes down that road to a degree, the film is mostly full of vague threats – explicit and implicit – that don’t actually lead to anything. Whatever the overall story Green was trying to tell doesn’t come through in a strong manner, as she sets up expectations but never follows through.
Perhaps the problem lies in the set-up of the film; the practice of people finding temporary jobs while on vacation might be a common practice in Australia, but the idea is likely foreign to most Americans. It’s never entirely clear why Hanna and Liv apply for the jobs, what their expectations were of their situation, and why they handle the disorder in the way they do. Green’s explanation of the whole scenario could’ve stood to be fleshed out more.
Still, the film remains watchable because both Garner and Henwick are interesting actors who treat their characters with the respect they don’t get from others. Even though Green has trouble explaining what’s going on, each of them has no trouble selling their uneasiness. Weaving, Frecheville, and Henshall are all solid in support, as is Ursula Yovich, the only other woman in town, who helps keep things from unraveling altogether.
Green made a name for herself with The Assistant, and while she doesn’t squander that goodwill with The Royal Hotel, the point of the film never becomes clear. She should definitely continue to use Garner as her muse, but maybe next time she’ll find a way to finish the story she’s trying to tell.
The Royal Hotel opens in theaters on October 6