[TIFF 2023] THE ROYAL HOTEL -- Kitty Green's Inferior (but Still Effective) Follow-Up to THE ASSISTANT
Review by Sean Boelman
Kitty Green’s narrative debut The Assistant took the film world by surprise with its timely indictment of a broken institution in light of the #MeToo movement. While Green’s next movie, The Royal Hotel, is not quite as strong or harrowing, there is still some excellent, provocative filmmaking on display.
The film follows two international travelers who have set up shop in Australia as they find themselves strapped for cash, forcing them to take a job in a remote pub. While there, they encounter a culture of toxicity among the unruly locals they serve. It’s a movie that deals in anxiety and uncomfortable laughter, creating an atmosphere that is quite strong.
As with The Assistant, Green’s sophomore narrative feature is an exploration of the toxic masculinity that permeates workplace cultures. While The Assistant tackles corporate America, The Royal Hotel addresses something much more universal: the hospitality industry. As a result, the film somehow feels more widely relatable yet also less urgent at the same time.
The first half of the movie is excellent. While it never reaches the subtly tense heights of The Assistant, Green’s taut direction creates an atmosphere that is undeniably unsettling. The cinematography and production design are fantastic and effectively create the feeling of isolation the film needed to succeed.
Unfortunately, the movie ends up losing much of its steam heading into the final act. The pacing makes it infinitely clear that the film is building to an explosive finale. While the conclusion The Royal Hotel reaches feels natural, it’s also somewhat anticlimactic. While Green and co-writer Oscar Redding clearly do not want viewers to leave feeling satisfied, it ends up being frustrating in a bad way.
It’s hard not to immediately connect with these two characters. Green and Redding give us very little background on the duo, instead letting us come to see their connection through their incredibly lived-in dynamic. Although both characters make some frustrating decisions, they feel realistic to the types of decisions that twenty-somethings would make in real life.
A big part of what makes the movie work is its performances, particularly by the central duo — Julia Garner and Jessica Henwick. Henwick has the much stronger presence in the first half of the film, but as the conflict ramps up, Garner quietly swoops in to steal the show. She’s quietly angry at first, the more visibly angry she gets, the more captivating her turn becomes.
The Royal Hotel is definitely not as strong as Kitty Green’s first narrative outing, The Assistant, but it’s still a mostly effective, compelling exploration of its themes. The ending is the weakest part by far, but the first hour is so chilling and effective that the experience is still rewarding as a whole.
The Royal Hotel is screening at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival, which runs September 7-17 in Toronto, Canada.