Opening with a titillating full-frontal act of fornication in front of a group of champagne guzzling, celery-stick chomping upper-class lady types, X seemingly prepares you for the ensuing unflinching proceedings that lay ahead. But contrary to the beautifully blunt title this is no exposé of the seedy underworld of Sydney’s red light district – director Jon Hewitt is more interested in setting up some suspenseful surprises that give this film more of a instinctual killer thriller narrative thrust.
Not that we should be surprised. Hewitt is a film-maker infamous in Oz for smart serial killer thrillers like Redball and Acolytes and the sexually tinged Darklovestory. But before that there was his audacious Melbourne-set vampire killing, all-screwing and drug-taking 1992 debut Bloodlust. So there were always sordid hints in this film-maker’s make-up.
The narrative for his latest follows the final exploits of 30-year old upper-class call girl Holly (Viva Bianca) who, prior to swapping the sleazy Sydney confines of The Cross for the cultural classy highs of Paris, plucks 17-year-old first-timer Shay (Hanna Mangan Lawrence) fresh from the streets to accompany her for a final high-paying threesome. But events take a sordid turn for the worse when the two unwittingly become witnesses to a murder with the perpetrator (an unhinged Stephen Phillips) hot on their tale.
Raw authenticity is appreciated when you learn that the film was shot off-the-cuff cinema-verite style in the midst of the seedy neon-drenched red light district hub of Sydney’s King’s Cross and (one strip-joint scene aside) thus eschews the necessity of extras.
Stylistic throwbacks to early 80s soft-core Brian De Palma thrillers and his split-screen flourishes abide as do a masterly use of back alley locales and criminal gangland fare worthy of Abel Ferrara. There’s even some Lynchian mystical intrigue thrown in toward the end but what holds up most impressively are the performances of the two leads, who are, it must be said, exceptional.
Mangan Lawrence (who appeared in Hewitt’s Acolytes) particularly shines as the literal new-chick-on-the-block who embarks on a new life on the streets. Her butter-wouldn’t-melt complexion and sweet personality all the more heart-wrenching given the sordid circumstances. While Bianca (wooing audiences recently in TV’s Spartacus: Blood and Sand) is equally triumphant as the veteran vixen who learns that fleeing her tainted past is especially difficult when the future has other plans for you. Both characters evoke audience sympathy without succumbing to forced emotional caricatures.
Confounding expectations Hewitt favours a loose thread ending that is reassuringly fearless in its bold statements ensuring you leave the theatre with you’re emotional investment intact.
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