The Royal Hotel (2023)

November 1st, 2023
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Kitty Green | Cast: Julia Garner, Jessica Henwick, Herbert Nordrum, Dylan River | Australia, Drama 91

Set in the rugged wilderness of the Australian outback The Royal Hotel provides a twisty new turn on a genre of cinema involving forms of exorcism. This handsome-looking thriller moves on from earlier male-dominated features in the OZ exploitation genre that are generally laced with misogyny, xenophobia and homophobia, such as Ted Kotcheff’s masterly 1971 outing Wake In Fright.

There are similar themes to be found here as two young Canadian women on an Overseas Experience in Australia start to run low on funds and secure work in a remote drinking hole hotel, having travelled to the outback to replace a couple of English girls. Both find themselves having to confront a hostile environment.

Unlike the earlier films in the genre the two women and a range of other female characters, including an indigenous aborigine, are seen to find ways of elbowing out the worst traits of male behaviour. One of the men is played by Hugo Weaving in a standout performance well beyond his Priscilla Queen of the Desert days.

The film opens in a booming underground disco with a tracking shot following a young woman who has unsuccessfully chatted up a male bartender. As she leaves this pulsating darkened room the camera follows her into the bright quiet daylight of Sydney harbour. It all feels like a curious premonition that she will also become a bartender and experience both welcome and unwelcome male attention.

Melbourne-based film director Kitty Green follows up her previous film The Assistant with many beautiful visual touches. These include the contrast of an empty swimming pool with deck chairs and a sequence of jumping into outdoor water streams that serve to refresh the claustrophobia that dry arid landscapes induce in her characters. There are striking edits involving doors that open up possibilities but also shut out the unexpected. The natural beauty of a snake contrasts with what will happen to the contents of a bottled-up glass jar.

Apparently the film is based on a documentary about the real life experiences of two Canadian backpackers travelling in the Australian outback. Although the director’s observation of the women is possibly too understated or underplayed by Julia Garner and Jessica Henwick, The Royal Hotel is more likely to be viewed as a film of measured gradual chills.

The last sequence is clearly indebted to Tony Williams’ 1982 film Next Of Kin which was co-scripted by Michael Heath and voted by Tarantino as his choice for the best OZ exploitation chiller. The film earlier involved a woman battling interior demons in a gothic house and may have had more off-the-kilter chills and zany humour, but Green draws from her film a similar sense of brooding menace.

As its female protagonists look to find a way to escape from an inferno of impending hell, The Royal Hotel also employs a striking use of fire during the finale. This is a very clear homage to the earlier film while providing within the narrative a more contemporary female focused angle.@PeterHerbert


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