Sydney. Shay (Hanna Mangan-Lawrence) is a teenage runaway just off the bus from Brisbane. With no money, she drifts towards “The Cross”, King's Cross, Sydney's red light district. Her first night of prostitution does not go well, and she's under threat from the other prostitutes for straying onto their patch. Holly Rowe (Viva Bianca) has been on the game since her teens and is now pushing thirty – one last night and she can get out. A client wants a threesome and she encounters Shay and offers her the job. But they are interrupted by a visitor, who shoots their client dead. The two women are on the run for their lives...
X: Night of Vengeance was simply called X in its native country, and it takes place over one night. It's a film which seems to want to be a serious look at prostitution and its effect on its two lead characters, and the interview on the disc with co-writer/actress Belinda McClory seems to bear this out this intended feminist slant. But on the other hand it needs to pack in all the exploitation-thriller touchstones, and that means strong violence and a lot of nudity, not just confined to the two leading actresses, and sometimes full-frontal as well. This becomes particularly gratuitous in a shower scene early on and a later one where Shay and Holly take a shortcut through a strip club and a woman in a shower cubicle turns to face the camera for no particular reason as they hurry past. That said, for the possible benefit of the female halves of any couples in the audience and possibly any stray gay men who might have wandered in, director Jon Hewitt throws in full-frontal male nudity before the opening credits, but even-handed this is not. It certainly ensures you get your money's worth for your 18-certificate (MA 15+ in Australia) delectation.
Back in the 1970s, Roger Corman gave some talented young directors a break by hiring them to make exploitation movies where as long as the requisite amount of car chases and T & A were fulfilled, you could then do pretty much what you liked. The results, many of which now have cult followings, can often be surprisingly subversive – I refer you for example to Caged Heat, directed by Jonathan Demme. This isn't Jon Hewitt's first feature but his fifth, though to be fair I haven't seen the earlier ones. His direction is occasionally tricksy, such as his use of split screen in certain sequences. Belinda McClory, who is married to Hewitt, cowrote two of them (Redball and Darklovestory) and acted in three (lead roles in the aforementioned two and a supporting role in Acolytes.The latter, made in 2008, also featured an even younger Hanna Mangan-Lawrence.) But somehow I doubt that X will be joining the ranks of exploitation cult classics. It benefits from strong performances from Viva Bianca and Hanna Mangan-Lawrence, the latter only nineteen at the time and in a very different role from that in Lucky Country, made two years earlier. But the main issue is a script weakness: despite plenty of incident – including that sex and violence – the plot doesn't actually start until halfway through a fairly short film, making it seem thin and insubstantial as a result.
X isn't the kind of film that usually troubles the AACTA Awards but it has been nominated for one, for Cindy Clarkson's editing, not yet awarded at the time of writing. Under its new title, the film had a brief UK cinema run before being released on DVD.
X: Night of Vengeance is released by Revolver on a dual-layered DVD encoded for Region 2 only.
X was shot digitally on the Red One MX, which captures at 4.5K resolution. It has a hard and glossy look that I've seen in many digitally-captured productions, with strong contrast and deep blacks – not really a filmlike look, but certainly not inappropriate to this subject matter. Given that the film is set entirely at night, those blacks and shadow detail are particularly important for the exterior scenes. However, the film was shown in cinemas in a ratio of 2.35:1 and the Australian release from Madman is in that ratio. Revolver's DVD is in 1.78:1, which is the Red's native ratio, so this is an open-matte transfer. But there's no excuse not to provide the correct ratio. To add insult to injury, the extracts from X in the making-of documentary on this disc are in the correct ratio. You do have to wonder how much of this film's intended audience are likely to worry about this though.
The soundtrack falls short too – Dolby Surround (2.0) instead of 5.1. The soundtrack is clear and well-balanced, with the surrounds being used pretty much only for ambience and the music score. There are no hard-of-hearing subtitles, which is something I'm resigned to (none of the four discs I'm reviewing today have them) but is not something to be encouraged.
To be fair to Revolver, they have provided a decent number of extras. “The Making of X” (36:02) is a making-of documentary, also included on the Madman disc. This is made up of interviews with several of the cast and crew, about the whys and wherefores of shooting a low-budget feature on real locations.
The remaining extras are all interviews, some material from which is included in the documentary above. They are with Hanna Mangan-Lawrence (13:20) and Viva Bianca (8:06) separately and together (21:23), Belinda McClory (5:56, shot with her bookshelf behind her, and seeming a little awkward), Jon Hewitt (12:38) and producer Lizzette Atkins (21:56). The interviews are presented EPK style, with the question appearing as text followed by the interviewee's answer direct to camera. Although these are often superficial, as tends to be the way with items like this, there is some interesting information to be had. Viva Bianca had a leading role in Spartacus: Blood and Sand (Mangan-Lawrence also appears in that) and X was shot during an unexpected hiatus in her schedule. Due to the film's low budget, the clubs, brothels and hotel rooms seen in the film are the real thing.
The Madman disc, which is Region 4 only, has a commentary and trailers which are not featured on Revolver's release.