In 2019, writer-director Kitty Green made “The Assistant,” starring Julia Garner — who’s been so good in “Ozark,” “The Americans,” and “Inventing Anna” — as a woman working for a big shot movie executive who exploits young actresses a la Harvey Weinstein. Garner’s character was mostly silent as she sat through the drudgery of her job every day, but she grew increasingly concerned about the women her boss was taking advantage of. The most riveting scene involved Garner’s character finally going to the company’s human resources manager to complain about what she had witnessed, only to be rebuffed and learn the HR department existed to protect the company, not the employees.
Now Green is back with “The Royal Hotel,” another movie about women dealing with toxic men at work.
It takes place in Australia, where a building with the word “hotel” on the front doesn’t mean it has rooms to let. Having traveled down under, I can attest that every small Aussie town has at least one “hotel” that’s nothing more than a pub which often serves as the local gathering place.
Garner plays Hanna, who’s on a backpacking trip with her friend Liv (Jessica Henwick). After partying with some rich guys in Sydney, the women find themselves nearly broke, so they go to an employment agency to get jobs. Unfortunately, the sole opportunity available is at The Royal Hotel, in the outback, so far from the rest of civilization they won’t even get a signal for their cell phones. The employment counselor warns them it’s in a mining town populated almost entirely by men, so they’ll get a lot of attention, much of it unwanted, and they have to be ready for it.
It takes a single night for Hanna to recognize the dangerous situation they’ve put themselves in. The pub’s owner (Hugo Weaving) is a drunk, kept in line by his Aboriginal girlfriend (Ursula Yovich), who runs the kitchen and stays away from the customers. Worse, the miners who come in every evening to consume beer after beer are lonely, loud, and crude — and those are the good ones. The bad ones are menacing and scary, not the kind of guys it’s healthy for young women to be around.
Despite Hanna’s protestations, Liv convinces her to stay so they can make some money and continue on their adventure. Yet the longer they’re there, the more familiar and threatening some of the men become. There are a couple who seem nice and treat the women well, but that’s a thin veneer that doesn’t hold.
One of the supporting characters is Tommy (Baykali Ganambarr), an Aboriginal vendor Hanna and Liv meet one day while he’s delivering food to The Royal. They invite him in, but the look on his face says volumes — as a person of color, he knows better than to engage in this world of belligerent, liquored-up white men.
Watching “The Royal Hotel,” I wasn’t sure if the women would be able to extricate themselves from this noxious situation before something truly horrible took place. It’s not a horror movie, but more of a thriller, with several scenes which had me on the edge of my seat. But I was not satisfied with the way Green brought the story to a climax. It seemed like she didn’t know how to write a reasonable resolution, so just opted for an easy out.
For that reason, I can’t give “The Royal Hotel” a higher score than 6.5 out of 10. But I look forward to whatever Green does next, hopefully with Garner, who makes everything she appears in better.
Now playing in theaters.