Canadian backpackers Hanna (Julia Garner) and Liv (Jessica Henwick) are having the time of their lives in Sydney. They join extravagant boat parties, drink and meet handsome men of around their age. They do no wish to return to the cold Great White North. An agency offers them a job at a pub located in the remote desert, bang in the middle of nowhere, warning them that their customers will consist almost entirely of men. Presumably not a very refined clientele. The more cautious Hanna hesitates, but the fearless Liv eventually persuades her: “we’ll work for a few weeks and then return to the coast in order to party on”.
Hanna and Liv could not fathom what they are about to experience. Think of the Titty Twister bar of Robert Rodriguez’s From Dawn to Dusk (1996), minus the demons, and you are halfway there. Chauvinism prevails in this highly sexualised anything-goes type of environment. A customer orders a very peculiar drink: “a Dickens Cider”. The naive Hanna does not grasp the sexist word play, in a joke repeated a couple more times in the film. Men regularly make advances, which Hanna consistently rejects. The suggestive nicknames of some of the clients (“Teeth”, “Spanners”) dop not convey a sense of peace and solidarity. Not-so-dolly Dolly (Daniel Henshall) is particularly menacing, with his not-so-subtle gestures (such as killing a large serpent and sticking it inside a jar with Hanna’s name of it) hinting at a violent nature. Their deadbeat landlords aren’t trustworthy, either, and Hanna begins to suspect that the two women will be defaulted.
Gender relations aren’t the only factor at play. Cultural differences also stand out: Canadian and Australian temperament and behaviour are the opposite ends of the spectrum. The North Americans are polite, preserved, and consume alcohol in moderation. The Ozzies are extremely loud, foul-mouthed and drink ’till they drop. British culture is also present. We briefly meet Hanna and Liv’s predecessors, two English girls who seem to be having the time of their lives. They beautifully honour the British traditions of binge drinking and flashing in public. They behave as if they were on a hen weekend in Kavos or Ibiza, inevitably passing out across the floor half naked and covered in sticky lager. They love Dickens Cider. So charming and elegant.
This very effective revenge thriller deconstructs toxic masculinity without resorting to platitudes and cliches. The story is mostly credible. The script is extremely well written, with the subplots carefully tied together. Tension gradually build up, as viewers anxiously wait for the climax, an event that will trigger chaos and force our heroines to take matters into their own hands. The more audacious Liv turns out to be very gullible (particularly when she’s under the influence of copious amounts of booze), leaving the more introspective and cowardly Hanna to take the lead. Perhaps it is precisely Hanna’s candid admission of her vulnerabilities (she confesses that she trusts nobody, and that she is riddled with fear) that drive her forward. Expect a satisfactory, explosive ending.
The Royal Hotel showed in the Official Competition of the 71st San sebastian international Film Festival, when this piece was originally written. In cinemas on Friday, November 3rd.