Toronto International Film Festival Review – ‘The Royal Hotel’ is an Unsettling Look at Isolation and Gender Dynamics

Toronto International Film Festival Review – ‘The Royal Hotel’ is an Unsettling Look at Isolation and Gender Dynamics
Courtesy of TIFF

The unknown can be fascinating, but it can also be legitimately terrifying. Traveling halfway across the world feels like a great way to get away from everything, and the sense of freedom it brings may be accompanied by an uncertainty about safety and security. Kitty Green’s new film The Royal Hotel posits just such a scenario, finding two young women out of money in Australia working to make such cash at a bar in a very remote area that definitely doesn’t have a soothing vibe.

Hanna (Julia Garner) and Liv (Jessica Henwick) are first seen partying on a boat, which is when Liv finds out that her credit card has been declined and they’re officially out of funds. They have no choice but to accept the only positions left in a work-travel program, and make the long journey to a place called The Royal Hotel. They are immediately unimpressed by their new surroundings, where wi-fi is nowhere to be found and they must spend their nights serving beer after beer to a rowdy group of drunken locals. Some take a particular interest in the two women, who do their best to engage with them without putting themselves in harm’s way.

The Royal Hotel marks a reframing of Green and Garner following their work together on The Assistant, a very different film which also deals with unwanted advances from men and the way in which others are complicit in allowing harassment to persist. That the owner of the bar, Billy (Hugo Weaving), is himself always inebriated doesn’t help matters at all, and he notes how banning problematic customers doesn’t actually work since they never listen and just come back anyway. In a place where buses back to civilization only come every few days, this feels like the perfect potential setting for nightmare where no one would even know if these two women went missing.

There is a foreboding tone throughout the entire film, which begins with the arrival at the Royal Hotel and continues as Hanna becomes more unnerved by one of the men who frequently stares at her in the bar. Liv seems much less concerned and dismisses her friend’s pleas to leave, certain that things will get better and they just need to make some money so they can get back to travel. They do both agree on one thing – this is not what they had planned. This temporary refueling detour feels like quicksand, sucking them in and further keeping them away from their endgame of getting to truly enjoy some rest and relaxation.

Three-time Emmy winner Garner tones down the spunk her Ozark character possessed and turns in a performance much closer to the one she gave in The Assistant. Hanna does still speak up for herself but retreats whenever she feels threatened, no easy feat considering that there’s nowhere for her to go and she typically needs to keep serving other patrons. Henwick brings a less tense attitude to Liv, which makes the moments where she does start to get scared all the more worrisome since she seems to have accepted her circumstances as temporary and necessary rather than utterly off-putting.

This film manages to be captivating precisely because it’s not clear exactly where it’s going, forcing audiences to remain just as trapped as these two protagonists in a volatile landscape where they are clearly outsiders. The stark emptiness enhances that sense of isolation, and the interior of the bar conveys the mood of the town and its people. This can be seen as a cautionary tale about crossing cultures and ending up in the wrong place, but it also has much to say about chauvinism and female independence, all wrapped up in an unsettling and engaging story.

Grade: B+

Check out more of Abe Friedtanzer’s articles.

The Royal Hotel makes its world premiere in the Gala Presentations section at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival and will be released in October by NEON.

Comment (0)


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here