Those making films on the subject of female exploitation, especially prostitution, need to be fully alert of not falling into the trap of aligning themselves with the very individuals that fuel a misogynistic interest. Sadly, even with the dangerous locations of Sydney’s very own red-light Kings Cross district on show for the international audience to see, co-writer-director Jon Hewitt and partner, writer Belinda McClory’s new crime thriller X: Night of Vengeance steps into voyeuristic territory with worrying effect.
Spartacus actress Viva Bianca plays jaded high-society call girl Holly Rowe who is called to one last well-paid threesome, before escaping for good on a plane for a new life in Paris, France. After a freak shower accident, she is forced to quickly find ‘a brunette’ off the street, and offers 17-year-old runaway and fledgling hooker Shay Ryan (Hanna Mangan Lawrence) the job for the night. While partying with the John, the two witness his brutal killing, and go on the run from the killer and the law in one night of hell.
As much as Mark Pugh’s commendable cinematography captures each low-lit scene well, and you want – and need – to be moved by the two female survivors navigating their way through Sydney’s seedier side, Hewitt’s X ultimately reveals very little purpose and substance. More disturbingly, it depicts each attractive leading lady ‘of the night’ as a leggy glamour puss, easily earning a fast buck; it’s as though the writer/director has got a leg fetish or a fixation with stocking ads (as the poster shows). In some scenes, the camera is allowed to linger too distractingly over the actresses’ naked skin, far longer than is necessary to capture the sense of desire from the point of view of the paying client then fails to counterbalance this with any sobering and poignant punch of the lifestyle’s grim reality.
Like a B-movie or straight-to-DVD-movie, the acting is wooden on the whole, and every supporting actor is portrayed one-dimensionally, complete with scraggy-looking, deranged street hookers, pimps and junkies and bent, psychotic coppers. The result is blatant stereotyping that adds nothing to the film’s intended impact, short of short, sharp violent shocks at intervals that fizzle out unspectacularly. X also has the annoying habit of offering up bit parts that seem to go nowhere, such as the street urchin desperate for a fag all the time who disappears around the corner once more after speaking to Shay, never to be seen again.
The film’s lack of plausibility comes into question too; why would Holly know Shay was a) a prostitute and b) available for the threesome job, purely based on the young girl’s explosive episode in front of her taxi; and why would Shay look in on a suffering drug addict next door in the frightening, pay-by-the-hour hotel she is hiding out in?
Hewitt’s film tries to offer the token romantic ‘good guy’ in gentle cabbie-in-shining-armour Harry, played by Eamon Farren, so that not all mankind is tarnished by the same grubby brush as the manipulative males in the story. Even so, Harry’s on-queue rescues seem incredible, and as a grown man, his fond attraction for child runaway Shay is borderline unhealthy, especially when he does his creepy magician tricks for her, all with the purpose – we suspect – of demonstrating that dreams and ambitions are paramount, however tough life gets.
As raw and tragic as X tries to be, it stumbles over its delusional awe of the dangerous underworld and its alluring perks, and is trapped in a vicious circle of having to make its leads ‘desirable’ in order to titillate and retain interest, while desperately trying to depict how rotten the whole existence is. The film ends as oddly as it begins and leaves you feeling nothing more than perplexed at its ultimate motive, aside from being another example of cinematic exploitation from Down Under, which sadly fails on so many levels.