‘The Royal Hotel’ Is a Different Kind of Scary Movie About Predatory Men

Writer-director Kitty Green on defying horror, vetting male actors, and refusing to depict rape in her thriller about two women working at a bar in the Outback.

‘The Royal Hotel’ Is a Different Kind of Scary Movie About Predatory Men

In The Royal Hotel, two young, backpacking American women find themselves in the desolate Australian Outback and, well, Australian writer-director Kitty Green knows what you’re thinking. “As soon as you see an image of two girls with backpacks, in a remote location, it screams horror,” she told Jezebel recently in the office of Neon, her film’s distribution company. She opted for something more low-key than a maniac hunting humans, but in some ways it’s even scarier than that.

To make some money, her protagonists Hanna (Julia Garner, who worked with Green in 2019’s The Assistant) and Liv (Jessica Henwick) get bartending gigs at a pub called the Royal Hotel, whose clientele includes hard-drinking and consequently rowdy men. The movie puts them through an endurance test of microaggressions—one patron asks for a “Dicken’s cider,” and only when Liv repeats it back does she realize that he just asked for a “dick inside her” (someone played the same “joke” on Green when she was a patron of a Manhattan bar). The men gawk and drool, they trespass, they demand more than the makeout sessions they’re afforded, they use lighters with giant-breasted women on them casually. Garner’s Hanna gets a reputation for being sour and is constantly told by her boss Billy (Hugo Weaving) to smile.

Adapted from the 2016 documentary Hotel Coolgardie, The Royal Hotel is a movie about everyday horrors, though Green doesn’t consider it a horror movie. “I see it as a film about strength,” the director told Jezebel. “Julia’s character is slowly figuring out how to stand up for herself and how to pick up an axe in order to win that.” Even if the movie never quite becomes the hack-’em-up that viewers suspect it’s headed for, watching it is like sitting in an ever-tightening vise. Tense!

To Jezebel, Green talked about casting the right men, the politics of her work, and her refusal to write rape into her film. An edited and condensed transcript of our conversation is below.

JEZEBEL: What made you want to adapt a documentary into a narrative?

KITTY GREEN: I had just finished The Assistant and I saw the documentary. I’d seen a lot of films set in the Outback, but often through a male lens. I’d never seen it through the eyes of women in that environment. I was struck by how strong the women were in it in little ways. They’re kind of carving out their own strength throughout the film, which I thought was really beautiful. Also, immediately I thought, “Oh, is this something that Julia Garner and I can do together?” And that was exciting to me because we have such a lovely kind of collaborative partnership, I think.

What is it about her that makes you work so well together?

Energetically it just fits, and so it’s hard to really describe. We’ve gotten to the point now where I don’t know how much she’s bringing, how much I’m bringing. I don’t know where she ends and I begin. Sometimes I just walk up to her after a scene and she’s like, “No, I know what I did.” The words aren’t going to need to come out of my mouth a lot of the time.

Did you think about the genre as you were making this? Do you consider this a horror movie?

No, I don’t consider it a horror. As soon as you see an image of two girls with backpacks, in a remote location, it screams horror. But we were actually working against that trope. I was very aware of that going into it, even writing the script. And then when we were on set, we had visitors from the Australian government, and they came to watch a little clip and then one of them said to me, “Oh, it’s fun, but why do the girls have to die?” People come in, even with me behind the camera, and assume I’m going to kill them off, right? The film is trying to look at women figuring themselves out, finding their own strength, testing their own boundaries in this landscape. So that was born out of trying to mess with the genre conventions.


It seemed to me like what you were doing was really lining up the everyday horrors perpetuated by men that get written off as microaggressions or are just taken for granted entirely.

Yeah. I did a similar thing in The Assistant, where I’m looking at something that’s more systemic. It’s not necessarily about one act of abuse, but it’s about how the culture enables that kind of abuse and how if you allow this to happen, what happens next? If we kind of let these boys get away with X, will next time they get away with Y? So it’s about looking at how much we should tolerate and when we should stand up for ourselves and say no and enough is enough.

I thought The Royal Hotel did a really good job of illustrating the predicament of having a job and assuming you have to tolerate some bullshit, and figuring out where to draw the line.

I think it’s a tricky one, especially with drinking culture, because often it’s like, “Oh, it’s just a joke.” In Australia we say, “Oh, he’s all right, mate, he’s all right.” And here I think you say, “Oh, he’s harmless.” There’s a guy that you’re not sure about and he makes you feel a little uncomfortable, but he hasn’t technically done anything wrong. You know, it’s just a vibe or an energy or a few jokes here and there and a few ugly comments, but it’s not enough to get him kicked out. People, especially in hospitality, are dealing with that all day, everyday. And it’s sort of just sitting in that discomfort versus moving into any kind of horror genre type stuff.

“It takes three years to make a movie, and if you’re going to spend three years on something, it should have some kind of statement or reason for being.”

Do you think of what’s being portrayed here as a product of the Australian Outback, drinking culture, or all men/patriarchy?

That’s tricky. The behavior in the film could happen in Manhattan. There’s nothing in it that is unique to the Outback. I think isolation and a lack of female patrons is making it worse in that context. But I think it happens here in bars in like, Midtown or wherever. People drink a little too much, get a little aggressive and their behavior, if their behavior isn’t checked, can spiral out of control. I haven’t figured out how to chat about the “yes all men” aspect of it, because it’s not that kind of movie. That’s not the goal of the movie. But clearly all the men in the movie are behaving badly, right?

Do you think of putting stuff like that on film and explaining it as a political act?

No, but I think it takes three years to make a movie, and if you’re going to spend three years on something, it should have some kind of statement or reason for being. I pick out these moments or parts of my life that I think matter that other people often ignore.

You’re putting forth a bunch of images that are triggering your characters to various degrees. Was there any kind of assurance that you had that you wouldn’t be putting your actors through the same experiences as their characters? Did you talk about whether or not this material was difficult?

Oh yeah. To be honest, I wasn’t so worried about the women. I mean, we definitely spoke to the women. Julia and Jessica, who was new to our little group, we definitely discussed it at length, but to me it was more important that we cast the men appropriately.


It’s like, I don’t want the men thinking that that line is funny and repeating it, right? There’s a lot of swearing and bad behavior, and I didn’t want that to be on our film set. So when we were casting, it wasn’t just like, “We need good actors,” it was like, “We need good people.” Our casting agent was figuring out who those people were. And then getting Hugo Weaving was really important, because we needed a captain of the ship who looked after everybody, and he was such a gentleman. Having him around, everyone was very quiet, respectful. Especially as a female director, it’s nice to have some sort of presence around that an Aussie crew can get behind. But yeah, the conversations with the men—whether they understood the script and what we were trying to say—were really important.


So it was that basic? Testing their understanding is how you vetted them?

Yeah, definitely. I mean, if you read the script and think it’s really fun, then you’re clearly not the right choice here.

Were there people who thought that?

Not really. I mean, we were kind of specific to leave that out at the casting level, so I don’t think they ever get to me.

Shooting those bar scenes required a controlled chaos. Did you feel like you were walking a narrow line to have men all in this camaraderie of bad behavior?

That set’s a pretty tight space. And it was very covid-y at the time, so that was another layer of terrifying—that there was just all these men in outfits breathing on these girls, which was just awful. But I mean, there’s a few people that looked after that set in different ways. The nice thing about the pub is that the characters have their spot around the bar. Dan Henshall, who plays Dolly, sits at the end and he’s kind of the captain of that area. Hugo’s walking around, and everyone loves him. I had, to be honest, two people that were kind of directing the background. And I think they were able to take that layer of stuff so I could just concentrate on whoever’s in front of the lens, which was really great because I think that making sure that felt alive and kind of scary, a few layers deep, was really important.

Do you think of yourself as a feminist filmmaker or your movies as explicitly feminist?

That’s not the goal necessarily… If that is the goal, it’s not my intention. It sort of comes out through what I do. I just pick up on things that I find interesting in my environment as a woman in the world. And often when I put it down, it winds up a little bit like that. But I’m not just making… I feel bad. I’ve got to be careful what I say.

“I didn’t want to make it a rape revenge movie. I wanted to make a movie about women who have simply had enough of bad behavior.”

It is an interview.

Yeah. And I’m still not sure how to discuss things, but it’s not Promising Young Woman. It’s not that aspect of, “Let’s kill them all.” It’s a very different type of movie, and it’s looking at these little moments in our culture.

There’s no rape that occurs in this movie, as close as it gets. Did you go into it saying like, “I don’t want to put rape on screen?” There are people who feel very strongly about rape as a trope, as a point in narrative.

Absolutely. I feel like films like Thelma and Louise, [the characters have] assault in their background. They have a sexual assault or something they’re dealing with, which I specifically didn’t want. I didn’t want to make it a rape revenge movie. I wanted to make a movie about women who have simply had enough of bad behavior. They didn’t need to be raped to stand up for themselves, you know?

I find often, you get reactions on Twitter and some reviewers who say, “Oh, it simmers away and never reaches boiling point.” And I’m always thinking, is the boiling point rape? Did they want the rape? Is that what’s missing for them? It’s so sad that in our culture, a movie is defined as: It needs to reach a boiling point, and the boiling point needs to be an act of physical violence against women. The idea is we’re trying to make something that challenges that. But it’s going to disappoint some people who are waiting for that scene.

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