In 2019, Kitty Green’s narrative feature debut, THE ASSISTANT, premiered at Sundance to critical acclaim. The film, which featured Julia Garner as a meek assistant struggling to find the courage to whistleblow against a predatory Hollywood producer (the film taking creative liberties not to mention them as a Harvey Weinstein stand-in), was a more subdued take-down of the patriarchy, framed as that of Hollywood’s powerful exacting their control over the powerless. The gut-wrenching power of THE ASSISTANT came from its subtlety, where the brashness of the Hollywood executive’s sexism flew beneath the radar, becoming hegemonic with their underlings.
No one in Green’s narrative debut made big flamboyant gestures inside a courtroom, grandly gesticulating about #MeToo. It left audiences justifiably horrified by the producer’s actions as we experience the film in a state of repercussion-less discomfort. Green’s sophomore feature, THE ROYAL HOTEL, feels like a natural progression for her, as it takes those same misogynistic foundations portrayed in THE ASSISTANT and builds a robust pressure-cooker thriller on top, where rampant misogyny is bubbling away, barely underneath the dusty layers of Australian dirt.
Canadians Hanna (Julia Garner) and Liv (Jessica Fenwick) are on an Australian excursion when they run out of money. Taking up temporary work at The Royal Hotel, a dilapidated watering hole for the gruff and lonely miners in the area, hundreds of miles away from phone signal, they are forced to bite their tongue against the pervasive everyday sexism that occurs without consequence.
After they get thrown headfirst into a busy shift by their drunkard manager, Billy (Hugo Weaving), whose drinking eats into the profits of the establishment held in his family for generations, the girls realise that they are in over their naive heads. They plan on sticking it out for a few weeks to make money and split, with their adventurous spirit and desire for a swim not dampened by the louts who spit sexist slurs across the bar. Things come to a boiling point when Hanna finds herself reaching her limit in how much sexism and misogyny she can accept, while Liv isn’t as acutely aware of the danger when it comes to the overtly licentious environment.
“With sleek cuts to the men looming in doorways, their eyes ravenous, and their sexist jokes unfunny, Green navigates male behaviour, showing how slick and oily they can be when their tireless demands aren’t met.”
Where THE ASSISTANT tackled the thinly veiled sexism experienced in the workplace, where everyone knew but were powerless to speak up, THE ROYAL HOTEL plays it out in a more overt fashion. The patrons of the bar, all blue-collared normal blokes who are looking to let off steam, exhibit behaviours that are not just accepted but are cheered on by their fellow men. In a similar case of the hegemonic behaviour that Green utilises in THE ASSISTANT, an elder female patron named Glenda (Barbara Lowing) is not just invited by the men to take part in the misogyny, but she seems eager to involve herself in it, telling the girls to “get his dick inside you”.
With sleek cuts to the men looming in doorways, their eyes ravenous, and their sexist jokes unfunny, Green navigates male behaviour, showing how slick and oily they can be when their tireless demands aren’t met. The constricting behaviour of the men parallels the claustrophobic Royal Hotel itself, where the chaos of the bar feels suffocating. Each “give us a smile, luv” sucks the oxygen out of the room, starving the girls of respect. With the male characters such as Matty (Tony Wallace) and Torsten (Herbert Nordrum) – unfondly called by his colloquial nickname Teeth – Green plays into the good-man fallacy, where any respect shown by them is not out of courtesy but an opportunistic attempt to enact ownership over the person. The toxic environment these men have created is kept aflame by the inability for anyone to act against it, where one comment out of their noxious mouths against the actions of their own kind would threaten the powder keg that is the Royal Hotel, threatening it to implode on itself, both financially and from the aggressive rapacity of privileged men.
“…perhaps Green is making a comment through that absence of contextual history. Audiences should [have] empathy regardless of character exploration concerning the men in their lives. Ironically, the lack of a full background for Hanna and Liv makes clear they are more than just daughters, sisters, or barmaids.”
When Green cranks up the tension, especially with a mystery subplot surrounding a female employee last seen getting into a car with the shady Dolly (Daniel Henshall), the characterisations of Hanna and Liv seem to take a back seat. A small discussion around Hanna’s mother is the only topic discussed about their existence outside of the bubble of their travels. They’re far from one-dimensional, thanks to Garner and Fenwick’s brilliant performances, but their characters mill around, existing as fodder upon which the patrons inflict misogyny. That lack of characterisation feels slightly frustrating, but perhaps Green is making a comment through that absence of contextual history. Audiences should not only care about women’s rights when a reason is provided; their existence merits empathy regardless of character exploration concerning the men in their lives. Ironically, the lack of a full background for Hanna and Liv makes clear they are more than just daughters, sisters, or barmaids.
With THE ROYAL HOTEL, Green has once again shown that she can strike a perfectly pitched tone, knowing exactly how she wants to escalate tension, whether it be from female powerlessness at the hands of predatory executives or the roaring, blistering diatribe spat from the drunk mouth of an average man. With two narrative features under her belt, both as striking and as sharp as a shattered whisky bottle, Green is a filmmaker one should take notice of as THE ROYAL HOTEL is as unrelentingly searing and as dry as the outback itself. Green’s second collaboration with Garner is a thriller where respect is more scarce than water in the drought-ridden town that serves as the location for its bombastic and poignant finale. The film reminds audiences of what we may need to do to remove the misogynist cockroaches of our society.