Film review: The Royal Hotel - nasty but the tension's lacking
There are plenty of films in which a couple of slightly-naïve fun-seeking North American girls far from home run into trouble when they knowingly go something extremely remote and horribly dodgy. The Royal Hotel ranks pretty middling in the tradition – neither awful (in fact quite good), but nowhere near as tense as it probably ought to be. Canadians Hanna (Julia Garner) and Liv (Jessica Henwick) are best friends backpacking in Australia. At a boozy party, against a backdrop of Sydney’s most glorious sights, they discover they have disastrously run out of money – which sets them off in search of an employment agency.
The pay is pretty good, they are told, but the downside is that the work they are offered is in the absolutely back of beyond. What they aren’t told is that the work is in the grottiest pub imaginable where they will come across Australians at their least sophisticated and men generally at their absolute worst. The girls turn up and duly met by the monosyllabic, surly landlady who drops them off at a total dump within a total dump. The landlord, when he turns up, is an aggressive drunk – the perfect match for his appalling clientele. The girls react differently. One wants to head back home immediately. The other wants to earn some cash first and then go off somewhere more savoury. But in fact, the only reason they stay is because it really wouldn’t be much of a film if they didn’t. And having made their rather implausible decision, things get worse. There is one regular who is a pretty ghastly oaf who might just possibly be OK but probably isn’t; but there is another who positively sizzles danger. At every turn the girls are met with misogyny, brutishness and behaviour off the bottom of the scale.
And that’s how it goes for the first hour. They confront nastiness, but though you sense something is brewing, it’s purely because of the type of film this is. In truth, an hour in and the tension really hasn’t risen anywhere near enough. It’s only really in the last ten minutes that it all kicks odd – and the ending is actually a good one, but probably not enough to keep the film in the memory bank awfully long.
Still, the girls deliver a couple of pretty good performances. Hanna (Julia Garner) is quicker to sense danger, quicker to show her vulnerability, but maybe Liv (Jessica Henwick), with her extra confidence, is more likely to put herself in harm’s way. Their problem is that it’s not easy to get out of there. It’s the kind of place where there is public transport once in a blue moon. Bizarrely the girls aren’t just nicking a car within ten minutes. The behaviour they are confronted with is atrocious from the off; and the ghastly men are quickly fighting amongst each other over the rights they are wrongly claiming over the girls. If there’s a Visit Australia organisation, this isn’t the kind of film they will be sending out with their brochures… but it is a little reminder of just how awful, horribly, genuinely gripping Wolf Creek was nearly 20 years ago.