featured Film Review

Up Wolf Creek Without a Paddle: A TIFF Review of ‘The Royal Hotel’

September 7, 2023Ben MK

The topic of 2016's Hotel Coolgardie, the revelation of the misogynistic conditions faced by unsuspecting short-term foreign pub workers in Australia's most remote locales was a shocking eye-opener. A reminder of how fragile masculinity can spiral out of control when left unchecked, director Pete Gleeson's documentary exposed a terrible truth — one even more terrifying than any Hollywood horror movie. And in director Kitty Green's The Royal Hotel, it also serves as the basis for an equally disturbing thriller, in which a pair of backpackers find themselves in an eerily similar situation.

Starring Ozark's Julia Garner and The Matrix Resurrection's Jessica Henwick, the film follows Hanna (Garner) and Liv (Henwick), a couple of single women who have journeyed halfway across the world to Sydney, Australia for an exotic vacation getaway. However, when the pair run out of money and are forced to seek temporary employment to help pay for the rest of their trip, they find themselves with precious few options. Presented with the chance to fill a three-month-long stint as bartenders at The Royal Hotel, a pub located in the middle of the Australian outback, Liv quickly jumps at the opportunity, despite the hesitation of a more reluctant Hanna. But when they actually get there and are confronted with the harsh reality of their environment, they soon begin to regret their decision. As almost the only women in town, Hanna and Liv experience sexual objectification and harassment at the hands of the pub's male patrons. And with no law enforcement in the area and virtually no one around to protect them, their fight for financial survival soon becomes a more dire battle — a struggle for their very lives.

The result is a disquieting cautionary tale that women everywhere will be able to identify with. Yet, in spite of the movie's acutely female perspective, it's men who stand to take away the most from the film, thanks to Green and fellow screenwriter Oscar Redding's razor-sharp dissection of the worst aspects of male culture. It's an unfortunate truth that, even in 2023, such a commentary still needs to be made. Nevertheless, it's the brutal honesty with which The Royal Hotel explores its subject matter that makes it all the more chilling.

The Royal Hotel screens under the Gala Presentations programme at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival. Its runtime is 1 hr. 31 min.

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