If you can’t resist movies that work you up into a ball of anxiety, The Royal Hotel is the film for you. The story follows two American backpackers who take jobs in a bar in a remote area of Australia. The women hope to make some extra cash, but soon find their situation spiraling out of control as the locals grow more unruly and threatening.

The Royal Hotel comes from writers Kitty Green and Oscar Redding, with Green also directing. Julia Garner (Ozark) and Jessica Henwick (Glass Onion) star.

Welcome To The Royal Hotel

When we meet Hanna (Garner) and Liv (Henwick), they appear to be living the high life, dancing in a club on a yacht off the coast of Australia… until their credit card gets declined at the bar. 

So, naturally, they find themselves at an employment office looking for jobs to make some quick extra cash. The only position immediately available is a bartending gig in a remote area. A mining town, the employment agent tells them, so you need to be comfortable with some male attention.

Hanna seems unsure about the whole thing, but Liv accepts for them both immediately. 

So off they go into the outback, finding themselves at The Royal Hotel, a slightly shabby pub located in what’s basically the definition of “the middle of nowhere.” The bar’s patrons are almost exclusively men working the mines, who come by each night after their shifts. From the start, it’s clear they’re a bit of a rowdy, unruly bunch, though whether they’re actually ill-intentioned remains to be seen.

Liv takes to running the bar easily, bantering with the locals and letting any unsavory remarks roll right off her back. Hanna, however, doesn’t fare nearly as well. She’s clearly uncomfortable with how the men at the bar act and speak to her, and tries to get Liv to quit almost as soon as they arrive. Liv insists they need the money though, and convinces Hanna to stick it out for the summer.

But instead of growing more comfortable with the job, things just seem to get worse for Hanna. Tensions rise as the behavior of the bar’s patrons seems to escalate, continuing to push boundaries and set Hanna on edge. Is she overreacting, like Liv says? Or is Hanna right to fear and mistrust the locals?

‘The Royal Hotel’ brings edge-of-your-seat tension and anxiety

The Royal Hotel is the type of grounded thriller that hinges on how much tension and anxiety it can ramp up over the course of 90 minutes. And boy, does it succeed in doing that.

Often, thrillers rely on heightened premises or shocking twists to keep the momentum of a story. But The Royal Hotel doesn’t have serial killers, timely explosions, people hiding in the walls, or anything like that adding an element of unreality. Instead, it’s a story that zeroes in on very real, everyday tangible fears and anxieties to keep you on the edge of your seat.

There’s a unique sense of unease that often accompanies being the only woman in a room full of men, and one that The Royal Hotel clearly understands and capitalizes on. It takes that feeling and piles on even more compounding factors: the men are lonely, irritable, loud. They’re drinking heavily. They’re doing it all in a bar in a remote location – a bar which also happens to be the only place these two women have to sleep at night. To top it all off, there’s the desperation of being flat broke trapping them there.

Garner and Henwick feel real as Hanna and Liv, easily selling their friendship; sometimes it’s loving, sometimes it’s rocky. Sometimes they read each other perfectly, and sometimes it seems like there’s an insurmountable gap between them. It’s not just the tension of the plot that sustains The Royal Hotel, but the tension in their relationship. Because of their situation and their friendship, they have a unique responsibility to one another, adding an extra layer of complication to their situation. 

The Royal Hotel really knows how to put a pit of dread in your stomach. You feel like no matter what happens next, it can’t be good. The more you anticipate the worst, the scarier each new moment feels. This movie really is masterful at crafting tension and setting you on edge.

That said, the film’s ending didn’t totally land for me. It seems like Green was hoping for something like catharsis in the final moments, but the energy felt a bit misdirected. The Royal Hotel itself wasn’t really the problem – the men frequenting it were. It felt like the ending wanted to come off as empowering for Hanna and Liv, but instead it left me feeling like things were pretty bleak. But hey, I guess no one said this would be a feel-good story.

The Royal Hotel premieres in theaters October 6.