Kitty Green’s previous film, the claustrophobic #MeToo thriller The Assistant, starred Julia Garner as the traumatized employee of a Weinstein-esque mogul. That film was virtually silent and oppressive with looming dread, but played perfectly as a believable example of the real dangers women face in the workplace. Green’s instincts remain on point with The Royal Hotel, in which a pair of nubile Canadian travelers find themselves surrounded by an abundance of male microaggressions in the Australian Outback.
It’s a situation that sounds like the plot of one of those vacation horror movies, but this is no Turistas. Green reunites with Garner who plays Hanna, joined by Iron Fist and Glass Onion star Jessica Henwick as Liv. The two gals are partying their way across Australia, drinking hard and hooking up with guys, until they start to run out of money. They take a quick last-second job working the bar in a remote Australian mining town. Hugo Weaving plays their boss, Billy, a barely-functioning drunk whose idea of a compliment is calling Hanna a “smart cunt” to her face.
Hanna is understandably uneasy, while Liv is more open to the experience. They were warned about needing to be open to male attention, and they get plenty. The bar is full of leering male patrons asking them out on dates, being overly grabby, and making crass jokes.
“Could I get a Dickens Cider”?
“A dick insider?”, a clueless Liv replies.
All of the men laugh. So does the lone female patron, an older woman who seems perpetually on the prowl; not that the guys are interested in her.
What unfolds is a sort of game, where the women make allowances for the awful male behavior just to get through it and get paid. Like the two hard-partying British girls who preceded them, Liv decides to be accommodating and even playful with the men. Hanna on the other hand can’t hide her feelings and is repeatedly told to smile more. Billy blames the downturn in business on her perpetual frown.
Green expertly explores the realities for women in a working situation where men aren’t inclined to curb their inhibitions. The simple fact is that Liv and Hanna’s different approaches net the same result. Liv encourages the awful behavior to continue because the guys think she likes it; while Hanna’s disgust brings out their desire to bully her even more. Throughout, there is this ominous atmosphere that Green and co-writer Oscar Redding feed into steadily, without going overboard into Hollywood artificiality. What makes The Royal Hotel so terrifying is that it feels like a situation women might find themselves in, and in fact, the story is based on events captured in the 2017 documentary, Hotel Coolgardie.
Just as the women have different approaches to handling this escalating problem, the men are all varying degrees of terrible. Some come in deceptively “nice” packaging but hold ulterior motives. Others are just outright awful and make their intentions as clear and gross as possible. Babyteeth star Toby Wallace charms as Matty, a handsome devil with an intellectual side who worms his way into their good graces, and then very awkwardly, very drunkenly, tries to worm his way into Hanna’s pants, making that new friendship unsustainable as shit. Liv and Hanna’s bond is also tested, credibly so, as they prove to be so fundamentally different.
It’s clear that Green never set out to make a genre horror movie, but The Royal Hotel nevertheless veers too far into that territory. The final act is a whirl of awful decisions that make little sense and blunt our investment. Even so, The Royal Hotel is terrifying in its exploration of the allowances women make just to survive, and the snap decisions they must make in male-dominated workplaces. It’s a constant high-wire act without a safety net, and Green continues to be the best filmmaker working today at capturing that anxiety.
The Royal Hotel opens in theaters on October 6th.