The Royal Hotel: Outliving the Outlaws of the Outback

Some hotels are no vacation.

Directed by Kitty Green, The Royal Hotel tells the story of Hanna and Liv (Julia Garner and Jessica Henwick), two best friends who embark on a backpacking trip across the Australian Outback. When their money runs dry, the two are forced to take on temporary work in a bar called ‘The Royal Hotel’. However, what begins as a simple way to make some extra cash soon begins to spiral out of their control, exposing a riotous world of male dominance in the midst of the desert.

Simply put, there’s a ferocity to The Royal Hotel that gives the film heat. Intense and intelligent, Green creates a world that grabs the viewer and builds genuine fear for her characters. Set in the midst of the Australian outback, there’s a dryness to this film that suggests a world without life. Void of bright colours, Green ensures that this particularly ‘royal’ hotel feels unwelcome and ruthless.

In fact, by dropping her characters in a world without rules, Green gives her film is a brutality that is reminiscent of the western genre. Here, women are said to be held in respect, but very little power. (Even the bar’s female owner, while respected, is unable to contain the male madness for long.) Then, although they don’t ride in with the authority of John Wayne or Gary Cooper, Liv and Hanna step onto the grounds as the potential moral compass of this dusty land. And, despite the rampant toxic masculinity of this corner of the world, they remain determined to fight it out. 

But it’s in this heartless environment that Hotel flexes its feminine muscle.

Led by strong performances by Garner and Henwick, The Royal Hotel becomes an exploration of feminine tolerance for masculine abuse. Between both Hanna and Liv, Green explores varying responses that can be taken towards the men of this world. One the one hand, Hanna finds this to be an unacceptable reality. Brushing aside their advancements and speaking up for herself, she remains determined to stand up against those who would attempt to take advantage of her. At the same time, Liv struggles to see the problem. To her, there’s a certain wildness about this space in which she thrives and she believes that she can ride the wave to safety. 

But what makes this world of toxic masculinity so interesting is it range. In the Royal, there are men who act in their most brutal form. Viewing the world through dominance and power, these are men who carry a certain sense of privilege about them. Moving about without shame, they are obvious in their intent and remain unpredictable in their actions.

At the same time, on the other end of the spectrum, the Royal also has men who appear genuine and humble. They say things that Hannah and Liv want to hear and appear and seem to legitimately care about the young women and their desires. However, underneath their smile lies an unexpected cruelty. Masking their selfishness with humble eyes, these men almost have greater potential to hurt others. In many ways, these characters become the most dangerous as they appear sweet yet never truly care. In this way, Green wisely exposes the varying degrees that the masculine psyche brings violence to our world and reminds the viewer that toxicity is rampant. 

While it may be wild and unruly, it’s more than worth checking into The Royal Hotel. With an eye upon feminine strength, Green ensures that this is more than just another ‘desolate location thriller’. Through its building threats, Hotel also has a lot to say about the power of women and the poisonous nature of masculinity unleashed.

To hear our interview with Kitty Green, click here.

The Royal Hotel is available in theatres on Friday, October 6th, 2023.

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