High-class escort Holly (Viva Bianca) is retiring, kissing her callgirl life goodbye. She just has to get through her last night on the job. Meanwhile, teenage runaway Shay (Hanna Mangan Lawrence) arrives in the city broke and alone, doing whatever it takes to get through her first night on the streets. Thrown together on a job that goes horribly wrong, Holly and Shay find themselves on an out-of-control rollercoaster ride through the seedy clubs, strip joints and back alleys of the red light district. If they can get through the night, they might just have a chance at a fresh start.
MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: The saddest, seediest locations of Sydney’s Kings Cross are manifested vividly in Jon Hewitt’s X, but solid production values do not outweigh the film’s puerile voyeurism, base misogyny and lurid tone. Any claims that the film purports to tell a moralistic tale set within an immoral world are ludicrous; this is B-movie sex-ploitation powered by stock clichés and tawdry T&A.
From the pretentious pre-credit sequence that depicts a live sex act performed for the titillation of champagne-swilling society dames, Hewitt’s film gleefully wallows in the more putrid details of the sex-for-sale industry. X is not a film that wants to explore the deeper societal issues that fuel the flesh factories. Instead, it finds its strongest pulse when leering over the naked, sculptured bodies of high-class prostitutes taking showers or indulging in dirty talk while hand-jobbing old men in city traffic.
A parallel can be drawn between X and Julia Leigh’s equally artificial and just as sordid Sleeping Beauty; both films trade in representations of niche sexual debauchery for no greater reason other than they can. (Note to Screen Australia: enough with the funding of these sick-sex shockers, ok? They may sell to European distributors, but they are doing our industry and your reputation no favours at all).
Hewitt’s script, co-penned with wife Belinda McClory, follows two hookers on a late night odyssey as they flee a killer cop. Holly (Viva Bianca) is an experienced elite-service callgirl about to leave the life behind and fly to Paris; Shay (Hanna Mangan Lawrence) is on the streets for the first time, having fallen into street-walking after fleeing an unhappy family life. In need of a third participant in a high-paying threesome, Holly solicits Shay, but the evening is spoilt when they witness evil cop Bennett (an out-of-control Stephen Phillips) whack their 'John’. Instead of jumping a train to the furthest station from the Cross, the girls meander about Sin City, meeting junkies, pimps, fellow sex workers and, most oddly, a romantic cab driver studying to be a magician (a breath-of-fresh-air performance by Eamon Farren). The inevitable confrontation plays out loudly and violently, with no surprises at all; a seaside coda, involving Shay, a rabbit and an 11th hour grab for emotional relevance by Hewitt, falls flat.
Instantly recognisable clichés abound from the straight-to-video soft-core thrillers of the early 1990s, the sorry genre that featured lots of films with the words 'Fatal"¦’ or '"¦Obsession’ in their titles, and which Hewitt’s salacious film most resembles. Whether it’s the ubiquitous suitcase-full-of-whatever MacGuffin or desperate and dated post-production flourishes like split-screening a strip-club walkthrough to maximise the naked flesh on screen, neither Mark Pugh’s widescreen colours nor Cindy Clarkson’s frantic editing can mask the B-movie mindset with which Hewitt approaches the material.
Both actresses bravely indulge in graphic sex scenes but are left stranded by risible dialogue; Bianca is wooden but Lawrence is a sweet, sympathetic presence in a film that falls well below her potential. X’s voyeurism is laid bare, literally when Hewitt lets lets his camera’s gaze linger leeringly, over the young actress baring her breasts for a client’s gratification; it’s symbolic of a film that wants us to sympathise with the abused yet aligns itself with the mentality of the abuser.