‘The Royal Hotel’: Why Make This Movie at All?

The movie's theme is explored with more depth and detail in far superior films such as the devastating 'Outback' (re-released to great acclaim as 'Wake in Fright').

The cast is convincing, and the two leads are admirable—especially Julia Garner’s Hannah. Courtesy of NEON

In the Australian film The Royal Hotel, Liv and Hannah, two Canadian girls looking for kicks while backpacking Down Under, run out of money in a remote mining town and take jobs as bartenders in a blistered, beat-up pub called the Royal Hotel. In the weeks that follow, they find out no adventure in the middle of nowhere is a picnic.

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THE ROYAL HOTEL ★★ (2/4 stars)
Written & directed by Kitty Green
Starring: Julia Garner, Jessica Henwick
Running time: 90 mins.


Their accommodations above the bar are impossibly primitive. The pub sign is as bleached and faded as the dirt roads that lead to it. The customers are crude, abusive louts who have sex with the two girls Liv and Hannah are replacing. The owner is a brutish drunk. Serving beer and mopping up blood and vomit, Hannah, the pragmatic one played by Julia Garner, wants to leave immediately, but there’s no train for days. Besides, she feels obligated to protect Liv, the pretty, sexy one (Jessica Henwick), from the patrons she teases and unwisely flirts with, some of whom are dangerous. It’s a barbaric way of life, but they learn to get used to it, and the more they acclimate, the closer they get to losing their values and lowering their standards.  

Written and directed with muscle and grit by Kitty Green, The Royal Hotel is loaded with grim ambiance, and there is even some suspense, mainly while the viewer waits to see if anything will ever happen. Aside from the assorted villains and a poisonous snake that invades the bar, nothing much ever does, which leads to the bigger concern: why make this movie at all? The life-changing tension between Aussie vulgarians and civilized outsiders that usually leads to violence and rape is not an original subject in Australian movies. Still, it’s a theme explored with more depth and detail in far superior films such as the devastating Outback (re-released to great acclaim as Wake in Fright). The cast is convincing, and the two leads are admirable—especially Julia Garner’s Hannah, who shows several colors and feelings as she tries to negotiate the dead-end circumstances of life in Hell without parole. The outback, once again, is the film’s most valid and important character—a place of endless fascination, but I wouldn’t want to live there.

‘The Royal Hotel’: Why Make This Movie at All?