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  • Colin Fraser


THREE AND A HALF STARS Two backpackers take a job in a remote, outback pub. What could possibly go wrong?


Starring Julia Garner, Hugo Weaving

HOTEL COOLGARDIE was a the type of car-crash documentary you couldn’t take your eyes off. Following two Finnish backpackers into the outback (they’d secured temporary work behind the bar at the Coolgardie) landed like a blend of reality TV, horror film and WAKE IN FRIGHT, which the Finns certainly did. It was pretty clear from the outset that the two young women had no idea what they’d let themselves in for, pulling beer for the kind of rough necks you’d normally cross the road to avoid. COOLGARDIE told a story that was ripe for a rip snorting feature of the ‘you couldn’t make this stuff up’ variety. THE ROYAL HOTEL is that film.

The Finns are now Canadian, played with wide-eyed excellence by Julia Garner (OZARK) and a superb Jessica Henwick, under the steady hand of Australian writer/director Kitty Green who pulls it together. To be fair, she hasn’t strayed terribly far from the source material, and why would you when gifted something as riveting as this. Truly, you need to see HOTEL COOLGARDIE as much as you need to see THE ROYAL HOTEL.

Hanna (Garner) and Liv (Henwick) are cash-strapped backpackers who take a remote job behind the bar at the Royal. Warned that they’ll have to withstand ‘some unwanted attention’, they hop on a bus and head a long way west. Why not? They’ll get to see kangaroos, try something different and really, how bad can it be? Well, pretty bad as it turns out.

At an intersection in the middle of nowhere, The Royal is the only pub for miles around and home to rough-n-ready mine workers and a handful of alcoholic locals. The new bartenders are ‘new meat’ in a place where rooms don’t have locks and chairs don’t stop invaders. Owned by the equally hard drinking Billy (a robust Hugo Weaving), their first night recalls the bar scene from PRISCILLA with less makeup as it veers from raucous to rowdy to violent. This is the kind of place where things get out of hand with alarming regularity.

Green ramps up the tension pretty quickly - Hanna is keen to do a 180 almost as soon as she gets there - and it’s pretty clear where this thriller is heading from the get go: bad things happen in the outback, right? Yet to Green’s credit, it’s the minor notes and unexpected relationships that gives the story it’s impact. She could have gone full WOLF CREEK but chooses to keep THE ROYAL HOTEL steeped in a kind of reality, and it’s considerably more chilling for it.

Ably assisted by a supporting cast that includes potential nice guys Nic Darrigo and James Frenchville, plus the deeply intimidating Daniel Henshall, Green has crafted an out-of-the-box thriller that shines a light on power dynamics before setting them on fire. She understands why most of us visit a place like THE ROYAL HOTEL just once in our lives, reminding us of the very good reasons we don’t repeat the experience.



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