Review – The Royal Hotel (2023)

(RTE, 2023)

After running down their funds from their wild and party oriented travels through Australia, backpackers Hannah (Julia Garner) and Liv (Jessica Henwick) accept a desolate bar job located in a mining town in the Outback. Once they arrive however, an uneasy atmosphere settles in and follows the girls as they try to navigate an unknown, strange environment devoid of any means of escape. The Royal Hotel provides an excruciating commentary on the pros and cons of travelling around the world; specifically the dangers of travelling as a woman. Director Kitty Green severs her characters’ contact with the world they know and thrusts them into a society with different rules, rules they would have to adhere to in order to survive.

The driving force of the film is the relationship between Hannah and Liv. The two portray a friendship in which one friend is reckless and impulsive and the other is sensible and paranoid. It is Liv who encourages Hannah to accept the bar job despite its isolated location, convincing her that it’s a necessary task given their financial situation. However, after one night of working the bar Hannah begins to feel on edge and senses that she and Liv might not be safe. Liv on the other hand brushes past these signs and even encourages Hannah to be more spontaneous – for example, spending time with Matty (Toby Wallace) whom they had only just met and experienced unwanted attention from the night before.

The relationship between the girls highlights the somewhat universal experience in friendships where one friend feels they are being forced into uncomfortable situations and the other feels they are being held back or not allowed to have fun. Coupled with an unfamiliar environment, the cracks begin to show in Hannah and Liv’s relationship and we gain an insight into how people can feel alone even amongst friends. Despite their rocky journey however, Hannah and Liv pull together when their situation elevates. The Royal Hotel illustrates how difficult it can be to travel with a friend who has a different level of awareness than yourself. Furthermore, Hannah and Liv emphasise the importance of banding together despite differences and emphasise the power of women who stand as one.

(Discussing Film, 2023)

Reinforcing the idea of sticking together, The Royal Hotel supplies an honest and at times difficult to watch criticism of the systemic misogyny present in bar culture. When they are first offered the job, Hannah and Liv are warned that they should expect unwanted male attention, especially because they will be based in a mining town. Moreover, after a few nights Hannah is told by Billy (Hugo Weaving) – the owner of the bar – that her attitude and lack of smiling is bad for business and drives his customers away.

This demonstrates the expectation of both bar staff and customers for the female employees to be part of the service the bar is providing. For example, Dolly (Daniel Henshall) is a regular who expects Hannah’s company as well as her bartending service when he hangs around after hours and tries to buy her drinks. He insists that he is just being nice despite elevating the situation with aggression when she declines and he subsequently doesn’t get his way.

There are several narrative piques similar to this in the film where one of the male characters becomes problematic by suggesting they are going to act violently towards one of the girls. These situations are always diffused however meaning that the film never comes to a clear climax. This choice works from a social commentary perspective as it highlights that female travellers can always feel an air of vulnerability even if they are never directly threatened or put into an obviously dangerous situation. From an entertainment perspective however the narrative falls flat without building to a satisfactory crescendo and cannot end with an adequate equilibrium as the story didn’t deviate from one to begin with.

(In Review, 2023)

The choice to use the landscape of the Australian Outback as the setting for The Royal Hotel is a metaphor for the loneliness and isolation that many people feel whilst travelling. We experience this isolation predominantly through the eyes of Hannah. As aforementioned Hannah and Liv exhibit significant differences and desires meaning that whilst Hannah for example feels threatened by the persistent and overly familiar male clientele, Liv sees them as harmless and cannot empathise with Hannah’s plight.

Throughout the film the walls begin to close in on the girls when they realise – as personified by the location of the Outback – they have nowhere to run to. Subsequently when Hannah stops a susceptible Liv from leaving the bar with Dolly they have nowhere but the bar to barricade themselves into. The Royal Hotel utilises the small building stood alone amongst a vast desert to convey the feeling of being trapped; a feeling familiar to many travellers who experience loneliness or homesickness when spending too much time isolated in unfamiliar environments.

(Indie Wire, 2023)

The Royal Hotel at times provides an excellent observation on the experience of travelling and working as a woman using Liv and Hannah to paint a picture of how even the closest of friends can feel alone in each others’ company, especially when you are away from home. The film also dives into the problematic system of many service industries who rely on the sexualisation and submission of women in order to entice customers and maximise sales. Having said this however, it feels that many desirable elements for a good film narrative are sacrificed in order for the social commentary to be made. Other than our central protagonists many of the secondary characters feel one dimensional and have no other purpose than to act as devices for the plot.

The Royal Hotel drives home the dangers of exploitation that many female travellers are confronted with and encourages awareness of foreign surroundings in order to avoid being taken advantage of as everyone deserves to feel safe when exploring new places.

Hope Lelliott Stevens

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