Slamdance ’17: Hotel Coolgardie Review

Slamdance '17: Hotel Coolgardie Review
5.0Overall Score

In the middle of Hotel Coolgardie Lina, a young backpacker hears the “sad” sound of what appears to be an ice cream van driving through the desolate Western Australian ghost town of Coolgardie. Lina goes on to reflect that this town, where the traffic always passes through “has a bit of sadness to it”, which is reflected throughout the film in shots of the desolate, empty and dusty semi-arid landscape and town, only populated by the occasional sleeping dog.

This “bit of sHotelCoolgardie_Poster_WEBadness” is also what makes this feature debut from Australian Peter Gleeson about a solitary outback pub in Coolgardie, a mining town 350 miles inland from state capital Perth, a humane and sometimes moving film. And not just a simplistic portrayal of redneck chauvinism or ‘Wolf Creek: The Documentary’.

Although like ‘Wolf Creek’ (2005), Coolgardie can be a nightmare of a place for many of the exclusively female backpackers that arrived every 3 months. Particularly for the somewhat naïve and inexperienced Lina and Steph, the Finnish backpackers who come to work at the Denver City Hotel pub. They face language as well as cultural barriers, lack any bar experience and are forced into a desperate situation of having to save money, having had their credit cards stolen and money drained from their accounts in Bali.

According to the press notes, Gleeson had visited this bar before, getting to know the intimidating and abusive proprietor Coffey responsible for getting the ‘fresh meat’ in, and meeting the unique local characters, seeing the potential for a story about “the push/pull between opportunity and exploitation”. Partly perhaps as a result, the film veers between intimate moments of human warmth and vulnerability to disturbing verbal and physical violations made by perpetually drunk customers.

In one memorable scene we see one of the rougher locals Pikey, try to get close to Lina after a few beers: “I love you Lina” he drunkenly slurs. When Lina tries to resist his advances, it launches Pikey into a desperately tortured and disturbing soliloquy about how “bitches don’t like me”. And reveals how two previous girlfriends aborted his babies and how he would “kill ‘em”, whilst a wearied, despondent Lina looks on. Going on to reveal how he could “belt every c*** right now” and not care. In a darkly funny twist, he thinks it’s his lack of a car tHotel Coolgardie_LowRes_02hat stops him being able to date a girl like Lina.

Pikey will later go onto sleep in the girls’ living area in a desperate bid to get into the, by this time sick, Lina’s bed. An invasion that he excuses because basically he’s a man and he can. It’s a scene that grows quickly rather creepy as he gets increasingly angry at the exasperated Lina’s plea for personal space; “I give you f***ing heaps!”

It’s moments like these that you realise how desperate some of these people are, and how girls like Lina and Steph add interest to their hyper-masculine, solitary and monotonous lives. As a crude sign outside the pub announcing ‘NEW GIRLS HERE!’ seen at the beginning, suggests.

As Lina and Steph battle the demands from the impatient, bullying Coffey, and try to stave off the men’s advances who feel entitled to the girls, and have an unofficial competition to see who can “get their first”. And go on trips with customers to be “polite” and because there’s nothing–else to do and they have no other means of transport (one camping trips resulting in some dire consequences). We also see that there are locals there who want to look after the girls, and seem like genuinely nice people stuck in a bad situation.

One such local is Jamie, an unassuming guy who just wants some company and who when Lina tells him to scream at Steph for another drink replies: “barmaids aren’t dogs”. Soon he reveals to Lina that he has a daughter who nearly died, and who he hasn’t seen for six years because his ex keeps taking her away, making Lina cry in empathy.

There’s also local character and recycler John Joseph Lowe aka ‘The Canman’, who goes out of his way to make the girls feel welcome, buying them bottles of alcoholic drinks and bracelets, and taking them to see the local goldmine. Although in the beginning the girls feel awkward about his friendship, feeling they are forced to wear the bracelets, whilst his car smells so bad Steph vomits, in the end he is the truest most respectful friend they have. He is the only customer Lina wants to see when she is desperately ill in hospital with an infection exacerbated by her diabetes. And it is genuinely sad to know that he dies soon after the making of this film.

So although this film is a strong warning to any of those seeking adventure in unknown destinations -seeing the fresh hopeful recruits coming to replace Lina and Steph at the end fills you with dread. It is also an affecting portrait of what lonely people do in desperate situations, with memorable characters who linger long after the credits roll. For whilst Lina and Steph can go home, they seem trapped there interminably.

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