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SAN SEBASTIÁN 2023 Competition

Review: The Royal Hotel


- Kitty Green presents a powerful genre thriller about the alliance of two women in the face of fear and constant threat

Review: The Royal Hotel
Julia Garner and Jessica Henwick in The Royal Hotel

Two friends from America are backpacking in Australia After they run out of money, they take a temporary job in a bar called "The Royal Hotel” in a remote Outback mining town, where things soon start to get a lot worse than they already seem. This is the story of The Royal Hotel [+see also:
film profile
, the new film from Kitty Green, written with Oscar Redding, starring Julia Garner (teaming up with her once again) and Jessica Henwick, and after being screened at Telluride and Toronto is now competing for the Golden Shell at the 71st San Sebastian Film Festival.

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After The Assistant, Green returns to themes such as the impossibility of escaping the male gaze, the sexualisation of women, harassment, consent, abuse of power, violence and fear, but this time she takes it a step further and from a different space. The director takes these issues out of the contexts to which we are more accustomed and places them in a more disturbing space, a more playful, isolated and apparently lawless space, the dive bar that gives the film its name. The director builds a thriller that gradually turns into a genre and revenge film about the friendship of two women alone in the face of danger and fear. This is one of the most stimulating aspects of the film, in how, through the work with space, it takes us to a genre film about really terrifying themes and manages to disturb us and raise interesting questions (and possibly opposing positions, which is also stimulating).

This construction of the threatening atmosphere is also one of the most powerful aspects of the film. Green cleverly and imaginatively poses the dichotomy and similarity between the two spaces where the action takes place. On the one hand, the decadent and hostile bar, full of latent and more explicit terrors, where the two protagonists find themselves trapped. And on the other hand, the outside, with apparent possibilities of freedom, but whose immensity also encloses them in the middle of nowhere and where they cannot be safe either. It is also interesting how the theme of the constant danger that women are exposed to (whether internal or external) is addressed, and from there the narration of the relationship between the two protagonists. Two women who from the beginning wish they were somewhere else, the friendship of two girls whose fear connects them even more (despite their confrontations) and who come together in the face of this hostility.

Another great strength lies in how she powerfully controls the tension of the story, creating disturbing situations. Also, her ability to create visually compelling images, especially those where she films the suggestive and mysterious face of Garner (also very powerful in her performance alongside Henwick). It is a pity, therefore, that Green's lack of subtlety in her approach to some situations or a rather simple feminist message at times makes all this strength pale in comparison.

Despite its minor weaknesses, The Royal Hotel is a very powerful film, capable of raising interesting discussions, a film of intrigue and terror about the oppression and liberation of two women, of their alliance in the face of fear and constant threat, and which deserves its place among the genre cinema of recent years.

The Royal Hotel is a co-production between Australia and the UK from the companies Scarlett Pictures and See-Saw Films.

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(Translated from Spanish by Vicky York)

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