X opens with a bang, and by ‘bang’ I mean Tupperware party, and by ‘Tupperware party’ I mean women-only shindig where the featured entertainment is a young guy with a shaved ball sack who screws in front of them and whose finishing move is a cocky spritz onto a call girl’s stomach. Don’t act like you’ve never been to one of those parties.
Holly (Viva Bianca) is professional escort in Sydney, Australia looking to get out of the business after one last night on her back. Shay (Hanna Mangan Lawrence) is new to the streets, brand new in fact, and is starting her very first evening as a sex toy for hire. They meet by chance when Holly finds herself in need of a partner for her final gig. The pair proceed to party with a coked-up, low level criminal, but things turn from sexy to scary when the man’s business partner arrives and turns the john’s head into a bowling ball. The girls take off running with the killer in pursuit, and what should have been a night of sex, drugs, and Vegemite instead becomes a desperate bid for survival.
This is a dark and violent reminder that no one, at no time, should ever say aloud that they’re going to retire after “one last job.” It’s just not going to work out the way you think people.
Director and co-writer Jon Hewitt’s latest film offers little solace to those expecting something as simple as an erotic thriller. The copious amount of sex and nudity moves quickly from arousing to workman-like to a sad and bleak reality. Holly and Shay represent the opposite ends of the prostitution spectrum (it’s like a rainbow only sluttier). One is a successful and experienced woman who picks and chooses only the jobs she wants, while the other is an inexperienced teen just as likely to be found getting a pimply beat-down as she is to be seen giving hand jobs to men in Volvos. But as disparate as those extremes are neither woman seems particularly happy with their lot in life.
After easing viewers in with a fairly explicit opening and more nudity than you can shake a stick-like penis at the violence appears with a sudden brutality. From that point forward the two women are on the run through an unforgiving urban landscape where friends can be just as indifferent or dangerous as the bad guys and their only hope may be in the kindness of strangers.
Bianca is probably best known from her frequently nude role on Spartacus: Blood & Sand, but the similarities lay mostly with the discarded clothing on the floor. Holly is a professional, goal-oriented woman uninterested in distractions, but when Shay enters her life and ends up in danger she takes on an instinctive motherly role of sorts. Bianca shows that fractured exterior well in addition to showing everything else. Lawrence’s performance is more fear based, but she convinces with a performance that mixes innocence with hesitant determination.
X is as far from the world of Pretty Woman as you can get before looping back and circling around again for good measure. It’s a world populated with hookers, assholes, drug addicts, and hypnotists, where lives are as disposable as condoms used up and thrown away. Sexy and bleak aren’t necessarily an enticing cocktail, but Hewitt’s film manages to be a thriller that excites and depresses in equal measure. The ending offers a glimpse of the fairy tale denouement without commitment, but after this particular night from hell that may just be the happiest ending possible.
X is currently in limited theatrical release and available On Demand from IFC Midnight.
The Upside: Sexy, violent, dark, and raw; two strong lead performances; fantastic last line
The Downside: Not much opportunity to really get to know the characters
On the Side: I used the phrase “pimply beat-down” above to describe a character being beat-down by a pimp. Of course, that’s not the correct use or definition of the word “pimply” but in my defense the bastard did have a blemish or two.