San Sebastian 2023 | ‘The Royal Hotel’: the feminist ax that deserves the Golden Shell

Despite her short professional career, the Australian director Kitty Green has sneaked into the most prominent film circuits thanks to works as suggestive as The Royal Hotel, thriller with which it competes for the Golden Shell in the Official Section of the San Sebastian Festival.

In his last bet, he again coincides with Julia Garner (Ozark, Inventing Anna), with whom he already allied four years earlier in the vindictive The Assistant (2019). Green, who in addition to being behind the cameras signs the film’s script, takes us to the remote mining town of the Outback, in Australia, where two North American backpackers arrive with the aim of earning some money serving in a bar.

However, the place turns out to be anything but idyllic and the situation with the clients soon escapes the control of the protagonists. Garner and Jessica Henwick (The Invisible Agent, Backstabbing: The Glass Onion Mystery) They are the ‘final girls’ of one of the most powerful titles that has passed through the Zinemaldi this year.

‘The Royal Hotel’: movie review


The Royal Hotel It starts with two friends dancing in what could be a dark club in any city. One of them starts making out with a boy they just met while the other goes to get drinks. Realizing that she has no money on the card, she goes outside in search of her partner.

In reality, they are on a boat that sails through Sydney Harbor in broad daylight and, despite what you may have thought to deduce from this presentation of characters, the young woman who is flirting on the deck is the cautious and responsible girl of the two. In just 5 minutes, Kitty Green warns us that her bet is going to confuse and deceive us, that we are finally facing something original on screen.

Embracing the codes of cinema rape and revenge, the director creates a suffocating microclimate in a seedy bar in the desert and mining heart of Australia, where its protagonists face lasciviousness, possessiveness and machismo.

With a successful dirty, dusty photograph that crosses the screen, Green pushes us to an isolated and unprotected space at the mercy of the fury and drunkenness of men, with a hypnotic Julia Garner reflecting the tension, paranoia, lack of protection and that vulnerability so intrinsically feminine in any such hostile scenario.

It is impossible not to feel an immediate connection with her character, not to hold your breath with her for a male shadow behind a door or not to be paralyzed with fear as she is when faced with an unpredictable man who loses his temper. Jessica Henwick has a less grateful role, the cliché of a confident young woman who puts herself in constant danger because she does not know how to read her surroundings, but she works as a counterpoint to Garner’s.

In a cinema that is increasingly constricted and predictable, less surprising, a bet like this, truly original and brave, confusing in the best sense of the word, is immensely appreciated. A film that plays at distraction by flirting with cinema exploitation and the horror genre, but be tied to none; that leaves apparently relevant subplots unfinished; that prefers a masterfully contained climax to the explosion of violence that you predict.

The Royal Hotel It is a twist to all the genres that it tries and, within that multipersonality, it delivers a feminist, empowering, tremendously entertaining and absolutely authorial story, a blow to the table to conventional and repetitive formulas. It is the cinema that dares to reinterpret cinema. And how good this necessary renewal is for the cinema.

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