Saturday 2 March 2024

Movie Review: The Royal Hotel (2023)

Genre: Outback Drama  
Director: Kitty Green  
Starring: Julia Garner, Jessica Henwick, Hugo Weaving  
Running Time: 91 minutes  

Synopsis: Backpacking Canadian friends Hanna and Liv (Julia Garner and Jessica Henwick) are on a work-travel trip to Australia. After running out of money they accept bartender jobs at an isolated mining community. They have to endure a barely-civilized environment and nights full of rough, lusty, and drunken men, including the slightly refined Matt (Toby Wallace), innkeeper Billy (Hugo Weaving), the relatively quiet Teeth (James Frecheville) and the creepy Dolly (Daniel Henshall). Liv is outgoing and willing to enjoy the experience, but the more grounded Hanna is increasingly worried about their safety.

What Works Well: Director Kitty Green and star Julia Garner worked together on 2019's The Assistant, and here again contribute to an unsettling environment. The South Australia mining milieu is a time and place left behind by civilization, the men's pent-up isolation bubbling into boorishness and aggressive sexual advances during nightly drinking sprees. Garner and her co-star Jessica Henwick create a spiky friendship built on contrasting risk tolerance levels.

What Does Not Work As Well: A distinct absence of an actual plot becomes increasingly apparent after the opening act, eventually devouring the intriguing context. This is a tableau with characters but insufficient content, and sideways drift takes over. Men in coveralls sequentially gain then lose prominence, Hanna and Liv struggle in the absence of meaningful arcs, and a few plot points are just bewildering. A mysterious phone call from a previous bartender and the stern-faced cook who disapproves of everything but stops short of communicating hint at a story that never materializes.

Conclusion: Beware the featureless desert, where the promise of adventure can disappear into a mirage.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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