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The Royal Hotel Review

by Daniel Reynolds
3.5 out of 5.0 stars

The key to a quality horror movie is often found in delaying the inevitable stupid choice a character makes that will spring the scary element into action. In writer-director Kitty Green’s The Royal Hotel, a horror film of a type, that decision comes relatively early on. That it doesn’t sink the entire endeavour from the start is a testament to Green’s filmmaking abilities.

Hanna and Liv (Julia Garner and Jessica Henwick, both well-cast) are two young women partying across Australia. Stuck for cash, they settle on pub jobs in the outback so as to get the good times back on track. Red flags abound, but off the film goes anyway to follow the pair as they learn their trade from Billy (Hugo Weaving, with an all-timer drunk performance) and Carol (Ursula Yovich). As co-written with Oscar Redding, what follows is sharply made, if textbook, exercise in escalating menace from the various denizens of this squalid outpost. In effect, Green seeds her film with ample reasons for the women to get out, amping up the dread to a point so tense it really does become unbearable. That the situation feels plausible just makes it all the worse.

Which is ultimately what makes The Royal Hotel both satisfying and not. As we’ve been conditioned to understand (by the film and reality), this is a dark and dangerous world, one filled with various types of bad men—be they weak, angry, or worse. That Green delivers a victory that is decidedly not phallic is nice, until we realize it’s something else: Pyrrhic.

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