The Royal Hotel review: Welcome to the most dangerous pub Down Under… Warning to any parents of backpackers – this intense thriller will fuel your fears! writes BRIAN VINER
The Royal Hotel (18, 91mins)
Verdict: Tense Aussie thriller
Bottoms (15, 91 mins)
Verdict: High school satire
For all those parents who have recently waved their children off for a year’s backpacking in the embrace of Australia’s Work & Travel programme, my strong advice is to give The Royal Hotel a tactical swerve.
My own daughter did that programme, working for three months on a 50,000-acre sheep farm in the boondocks of New South Wales as part of a year Down Under, and even though she’s long since been safely home and remembers the experience with affection (apart from the attacks by giant killer magpies), I still felt a dry-mouthed personal investment in this gripping film.
The eponymous establishment in The Royal Hotel is anything but regal. It’s a grim, ramshackle pub in the Outback, serving a community of hard-drinking miners, to which a pair of young Canadian women, Hanna (Julia Garner) and Liv (Jessica Henwick), are sent by a W&T counsellor in Sydney with the glib but ominous warning: ‘You’re going to have to be OK with a bit of male attention.’
We don’t learn much about the women’s back stories other than a few vague indications that they are both leaving something behind in Canada they’re keen to escape. Metaphorically, as it turns out, they have merely raced clear of grizzly bears headlong towards the jaws of saltwater crocodiles.
For all those parents who have recently waved their children off for a year’s backpacking in the embrace of Australia’s Work & Travel programme, my strong advice is to give The Royal Hotel a tactical swerve, Brian Viner writes
The Royal is run by a dissolute drunk called Billy (Hugo Weaving, pictured) who gives them a few basic pointers in how to serve the regulars, preferably with some cleavage showing. After that, they’re more or less on their own
The Royal is run by a dissolute drunk called Billy (Hugo Weaving) who gives them a few basic pointers in how to serve the regulars, preferably with some cleavage showing. After that, they’re more or less on their own.
Classic film on TV
ROAD TO PERDITION (2002)
The great cinematographer Conrad Hall’s last film. So even without Tom Hanks and Paul Newman as mobsters, it would be unmissable.
ITV, 10.45pm, Tuesday
When they ask about a Wi-Fi connection, they just get laughed at. There are a few faint glimmers of kindness from Billy’s lugubrious, long-suffering companion Carol (Ursula Yovich), but the indulgent pampering stops there.
As they begin their jobs working behind the bar, their predecessors, a pair of promiscuous English girls, are preparing to leave. On their last night, these two are as raucously inebriated as the roughest of the punters. ‘That’ll be us in a few weeks,’ says Liv. It is meant as reassurance.
Chalked on a blackboard outside the hotel, above a crudely drawn pair of breasts, is a message drawing attention to their arrival: ‘Fresh Meat’. For Hanna, that and the unreconstructed behaviour of the patrons, quickly rings alarm bells: she wants to leave. But Liv doesn’t think there’s anything serious to worry about.
Besides, there’s nowhere to go and the next bus isn’t due for days. From this uncomfortable yet fairly prosaic situation, director and co-writer Kitty Green adroitly constructs a narrative of mounting tension and dread. Cleverly, she keeps us guessing as to the greatest threat to the women’s safety.
Is it the owner, Billy, who thinks nothing of calling them the C-word? Or Matty (Toby Wallace), who takes them swimming in a water hole and has the hots for Hanna? Is it the creepy, hot-headed Dolly (Daniel Henshall), who obligingly rem-oves a snake from their room but then does something sinister with it?
Hanna (Julia Garner, right) and Liv (Jessica Henwick, left), are sent by a W&T counsellor in Sydney with the glib but ominous warning: ‘You’re going to have to be OK with a bit of male attention’
Or the strapping, simple-minded fellow nicknamed Teeth (James Frecheville), who yearns for a date with Liv? As time passes, the two women become more familiar with the Royal’s customers, more resourceful in dealing with them. But the dangers persist, indeed intensify. ‘I’m scared of everyone and everything in this place,’ says Hanna, even as she acquires the confidence to eject unruly drinkers.
At a taut 91 minutes, its length a reproach to all those directors who would take another half-hour at least to tell the story, this is a tremendously accomplished thriller. And the acting is superb across the board, but especially from Garner, teaming up again triumphantly with Green after their fine work together in The Assistant (2019), another story of monstrous male behaviour.
All things considered, this isn’t a good week for the male of the species, cinematically speaking (see also How To Have Sex, reviewed below). We chaps get a proper pounding, too, in Bottoms, a snappy, foul-mouthed, funny, sometimes violent and above all non-heterosexual subversion of all those familiar U.S. high school comedies about dishy quarterbacks and sexy cheerleaders.
It is directed and co-written by Emma Seligman, whose 2020 debut feature Shiva Baby I really enjoyed. Bottoms offers further evidence of her talent. The story’s protagonists are lesbian best friends Josie (Ayo Edebiri, from the wonderful TV drama The Bear), and PJ (Rachel Sennott).
The pair start a fight club at Rockbridge High, ostensibly to empower their female classmates by teaching them self-defence, although really they just want to become wildly popular and seduce those sexy cheerleaders.
Bottoms is a snappy, foul-mouthed, funny, sometimes violent and above all non-heterosexual subversion of all those familiar U.S. high school comedies about dishy quarterbacks and sexy cheerleaders. (L-R) Virginia Tucker as Stella Rebecca, Kaia Gerber as Brittany and Havana Rose Liu as Isabel
One of them is played by 22-year-old Kaia Gerber, daughter of supermodel Cindy Crawford. The boys, meanwhile, are a preposterous bunch, either dim or conniving or both. The most risible of them is the school hunk, Jeff (Nicholas Galitzine), a cherishably mischievous parody of every school hunk you’ve ever seen in the movies.
Just occasionally the parody falls flat, making Bottoms a hit-and-miss comedy, but the hits more than compensate for the misses, and the climactic football match between Rockbridge and their fiercest rivals is a joyously silly mickey-take of a hallowed American tradition, which made me laugh out loud.
How To Have Sex
Nobody Has To Know
The six years or so since the #MeToo movement began in earnest have seen any number of films about predatory men and vulnerable women.
But most of them have tended to avoid the tangled complexities of human relationships, as if any nuance might seem too equivocal and undermine the message.
How To Have Sex (15, 91 mins, ****) doesn’t fall into that trap, to the great credit of first-time writer-director Molly Manning Walker.
Her film follows three teenage girls to a Greek beach resort, the kind of place that most of us would run screaming from, but high-spirited 16-year-olds, released from their GCSEs, run screaming towards.
Tara (the quite brilliant Mia McKenna-Bruce) is the least ‘worldly’ of the trio, meaning she’s never had sex. The other two encourage her to lose her virginity and eventually she does, to one of the friendly Yorkshire lads staying in the same hotel.
How To Have Sex follows three teenage girls to a Greek beach resort, the kind of place that most of us would run screaming from, but high-spirited 16-year-olds, released from their GCSEs, run screaming towards
It’s not rape as most of us understand the word, but nor does she encourage it, still less initiate it.
What a powerful film this is about teenage behaviour, the more so because it doesn’t preach, it just tells.
Nobody Has To Know (12A, 99 mins, ***) is a relationship drama from the other end of the age spectrum, and indeed might be set on a different planet. It takes place on a Hebridean island where Bouli Lanners (also the film’s writer-director) plays an ageing Belgian farmworker, known to everyone as Phil.
After he has a stroke and returns from hospital with no memory, his boss’s unattached, middle-aged daughter (Michelle Fairley) deceives him into thinking they’re lovers.
That could almost be the premise for a comedy. Instead, Lanners has made a soulful, poignant, quiet film. There’s a bit too much silence and gazing into the middle distance for my liking, but it’s sweetly acted and gorgeous on the eye.
The Netflix film Nyad (15, 121 mins, ****) tells the inspiring true story of Diana Nyad (Annette Bening, superb), once a celebrated marathon swimmer who aged 60, more than 30 years after failing to swim the hazardous 110 miles from Florida to Cuba, decides to try again.
Jodie Foster plays her best friend and coach, with Rhys Ifans as the grizzled sailor who, from his adjacent boat, keeps her on course. Stirring stuff.
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