Garner plays Hanna, who is slightly more responsible than her bestie, Liv (Jessica Henwick). The duo, who claim to be Canadian because “everyone loves Canadians,” are on holiday in Australia when they become strapped for cash due to Liv’s spending (and most likely her drinking.) They take a temporary live-work job at the titular Royal Hotel, a desolate, faded pub that takes a train, a bus, and a very dusty car ride to get to. It’s the only waterhole for miles—it appears to be the only building within a few hours’ drive.
The pub is run by owner Billy (Hugo Weaving) and his sometime partner Carol (Ursula Yovich), whose own bittersweet relationship is punctuated by bursts of violence. Weaving deftly walks that fine line that high-functioning alcoholics often find themselves on, between someone rough but charming and someone who is terrifyingly violent. Yovich plays Carol as a woman who has made a prickly peace with her situation. There was probably love once there between her and Billy, but now she’s mostly there to keep him from drinking himself to death and keep the crusty hands of the mine workers off the girls he hires to keep the pub open.
The fraying relationship between Hanna and Liv is tested further as they become friendly with the locals. There’s Matty (Toby Wallace, bringing the same natural dangerous charm he did to his breakout role in “Babyteeth”), who has a sweet spot for Hanna. There’s Teeth (James Frecheville), whose bumbling sweetness hides a troubling obsessiveness. And there’s Dolly (Daniel Henshall), whose menacing gaze at the end of the bar gives him the air of a lion waiting out his prey.
While Liv embraces the men’s work-hard, party-hard mentality, Hanna remains more reserved, always aware of the danger lurking behind a drunken man’s charm. “My mom drank,” she says at one point, the pregnant pause indicating she’s seen her fair share of how alcohol can change someone in an instant. Even when she does let her guard down a little, her thoughts are always on Liv’s safety and the perilous situation they’ve found themselves in.