EntertainmentTV'The Royal Hotel' Review — Julia Garner and Jessica...

‘The Royal Hotel’ Review — Julia Garner and Jessica Henwick Take a Trip


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When two friends decide to go on a backpacking journey, the last place they expect to end up is in the middle of nowhere as bartenders serving the most women-thirsty and deranged men in town. Yet this is what Julia Garner and Jessica Henwick‘s Liv and Hanna, two Canadian friends looking to visit Australia and make a few bucks along the way, must endure in The Royal Hotel. This film directed by Kitty Green, who has previously worked with Garner in the MeToo-inspired The Assistant, is filled with tension and distress as these two friends slowly become a pair of fresh meat in the eyes of the local bar clientele.

Julia Garner Outperforms Jessica Henwick in ‘The Royal Hotel’, Despite the Two Being the Leads

Liv and Hanna couldn’t be more different from one another, despite being inseparable. Henwick’s character is easy-going, naive, and always ready to party. Meanwhile, Garner’s character is cautious, serious, and good at putting on a brave face even when she is trembling in fear. She is even made fun of while at work because she never smiles. Although both are the beating heart of this film, it is evident that one actress has more on her plate than the other. Garner once again delivers an immersive performance, capturing every nuance of a woman who always keeps her guard up and is unapologetic about it. Realizing their situation working at a bar is far from safe, she is reasonably disturbed and isn’t easily fooled by the charms of a regular attendee at The Royal Hotel, Dolly (played by Daniel Henshall).

On the other end of the equation, Henwick’s Liv seems like she is always on the back burner instead of center stage. Despite the two sharing most of the time on screen, the script doesn’t challenge the actress to do more as Liv. The character doesn’t have any depth, proving to be complacent with every sexist and horrific event that happens during their night shifts. Although it is clear that Liv just wants to stay away from the life she used to have in Canada, the deeper motivations behind her wanting to stay in Australia, in the middle of a desolate mining area, are never made clear.

The Set Design, Cinematography, and Supporting Cast Members are What Keep this Thriller a Chilling Watch

Image via NEON

For a thriller to feel daunting, the set design and cinematography must be dark and gritty. In this aspect, The Royal Hotel excels. The bar itself is so grotesque and washed-up that it sets the stage for all the distress and nerve-wracking events that take place there. From the moment Liv and Hanna set foot in the place and notice that there is no service, the shower doesn’t even work properly, and there isn’t one single pool to swim in, the red flags are apparent. The cinematography by Michael Latham captures the dust and desert-like ambiance of their location during the day and the dark, dim-lit look of the bar during the nighttime (where most of the action takes place).

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Another positive of the film is its supporting cast. Hugo Weaving transforms into Billy, The Royal Hotel’s owner and a perpetual drunkard who owes the women their salary ever since they began working for him. He is a brute and doesn’t soften when teaching Hanna and Liv the ropes of bar customer service. Toby Wallace, James Frecheville, and Henshall play the men who are constantly bothering the lead characters, either teasing them or trying to flirt with them in the hopes they might give in to their non-existent charm. In a predominantly male supporting cast, Ursula Yovich stands out as Carol, the cook at the bar and the only one who has the nerve to confront Billy when he is wrong. She is also the first person to encourage the lead characters to get their money and leave.

‘The Royal Hotel’ Gets It Right When It Comes to the Challenges Women Face in a Men’s World

TIFF Toronto International Film Festival 2023
Image via TIFF

Green was inspired by a documentary called Hotel Coolgardie when she and Oscar Redding came up with the script for this fictional story. At the center of this thriller lies the challenges that women face in various situations in their day-to-day lives, where they are put into a corner and are forced to give in. The Royal Hotel pinpoints some of these hardships, such as when Wallace’s character tries multiple times to convince Hanna to sleep with him even when she refuses. Another example would be when Hanna has to deal with Dolly as a drunkard at the bar, making it nearly impossible for her to be cordial to a couple celebrating their anniversary there.

Even considering all that The Royal Hotel does right, the film falls flat at the end. It draws most of its tension from encapsulating the chilling situations that the protagonists face as bartenders in a remote location, but doesn’t put in the work to developing them. Although Hanna can be relatable on multiple occasions, she ends up having little agency in the unfolding events. As for Liv, she seems so engulfed in the daily routine of the bar that she doesn’t even seem to have any perspectives on what she wants to do with her life. She’s just simply accepted their destination, and sees the decision that they made to go to Australia as a point of no return.

Given that the two leads in this project don’t seem to have a clear driving force to their actions, this feminist thriller does more to show the challenges that women face than to create fully developed characters. Although the film does end with a bang, these missteps leading up to the resolution make the final scene bittersweet.

Grade: C+

The Big Picture

  • Julia Garner delivers an immersive performance in The Royal Hotel, capturing the nuances of a guarded woman who is unapologetic about it, while Jessica Henwick’s character lacks depth.
  • The set design and cinematography excellently create a dark and gritty atmosphere, adding to the chilling nature of the thriller.
  • The film sheds light on the challenges women face in a male-dominated world, but falls short in developing the characters and their motivations, making the ending bittersweet.

The Royal Hotel had its Canadian Premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival.



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