Depending on what country you watch it in, you’ll notice starkly different audience reactions to director Kitty Green’s outback-set thriller The Royal Hotel.
The movie follows two Canadian girls in Australia – played by Ozark’s Julia Garner and Glass Onion’s Jessica Henwick – who are broke and in need of a job on their partying vacation. Desperate, they land a gig as bartenders at a remote, rural pub where the locals all have a sinister air to them.
How sinister? Well, for one, the landlord is played by Hugo Weaving, whose introduction in the movie plays a lot differently for Aussie audiences than it does internationally.
Green explained to Zavvi: “American audiences are freaked out by him immediately, both because it’s Hugo Weaving, and because he refers to the women as the C word right off the bat. But in Australia, everybody thinks this guy is warm and cuddly when they first meet him!
“What’s brilliant about the performance is that you can never work out where he lands; is he a bad guy, or just an alcoholic struggling with addiction? You can feel the audience trying to work it out alongside the characters, which is wonderful – Hugo really adds that ambiguity to the character.”
The film’s intensity is drawn from the girls’ interactions with the regulars at the Royal Hotel, almost entirely consisting of men from the nearby mining community. They’re loud and obnoxious, and have plenty of sexist jokes to tell, but are they just lads mucking about or a more sincere threat?
“I wanted audiences to question whether these guys were just lonely, trying and failing in all their attempts to connect with these women, or if they had genuinely bad intentions. It’s why drawing them out so they weren’t just drunk caricatures was important”.
I was surprised to discover that Green didn’t find the movie quite as unnerving in this sense as I did, laughing that she’s “been in enough rough pubs” in her life to not get disturbed by this claustrophobic location. Instead, her jumping off point was the little-seen 2016 documentary Hotel Coolgardie, which followed two Scandinavian women finding work at a dodgy Outback boozer.
“I’d never seen the Outback represented in that way”, Green continued. “There was something about seeing this world that was very familiar to me through their eyes, and the way in which they dealt with aggressive, alcohol-fueled behaviour, that I found interesting.
“I hadn’t seen women handle themselves that way in that environment. I guess Australian women put up with a lot more than these women would put up with, which is part of why I was fascinated by their attempts to find the strength to say “no” to all their creepy jokes and games.”
There was another crucial reason that this documentary stood out to her: “Well, if I see a girl in a documentary who looks just a little bit like Julia Garner… well, that’s a perfect excuse to work with her again!”
Garner previously played the lead in Green’s harrowing 2019 film The Assistant, about a young intern working for a Harvey Weinstein-type figure, his crimes only inferred by closed office doors. But finding the right actress to play the co-lead was more of a challenge than it initially appeared, due to on critical factor that had nothing to do with acting ability whatsoever.
“If two women are going to be trapped together in the Outback, I need to make sure they like each other!” the director added. “This was a tiny project so we had to shoot fast, and Jessica seemed to be on the same page as me – it helps that she’s British, so she’s definitely aware of pubs like this.
“She didn’t need too much persuading to sign on. My pitch to get her to come over was that it was kangaroo season!”
Considering that she deals almost exclusively in harrowing subject matter for her films, it came as a surprise to discover just how much fun Green had making The Royal Hotel. Even though critics have been left unsettled by her movie, she hopes audiences feel the same way as her.
“I was at a screening in L.A. recently, and the girls and I just laughed the entire way through. This is what I want for audiences, to see it a second time so they won’t feel tense and can just relax and enjoy the ride…”
Well, I’ll just have to take Green’s word for that – it’s testament to the intensity of her movie that I won’t be rushing back to visit the Royal Hotel anytime soon.
The Royal Hotel is released in UK cinemas on Friday, 3rd November.