Holly Rowe (Viva Bianca) aims to leave her life as a call-girl and escape to Paris after taking on one last client. When another girl proves unavailable for a threesome, Holly offers the job to Shay (Hanna Mangan-Lawrence), a broke, desperate teenage runaway trying to get through her first night as a hooker. But the night goes horrifically awry when the girls witness their client's murder at the hands of the maniacal Bennett (Stephen Phillips). On the run with a brutal killer on their trail, they must help each other survive the night.
Thematically this Australian 'erotic' (as the ad campaign would have it) thriller attempts the equivalent of the normally male-driven getaway driver or heist story. You know, the one where the antihero aims to pull off one last big score to escape their sordid past. Part Ozploitation thriller, part gritty character study, X: Night of Vengeance shares elements in common with British filmmaker Paul Andrew Williams' similarly harrowing London to Brighton (2006), but proves less focused, flashier and more eager to titillate. Jon Hewitt made his feature debut co-directing crass punk-styled vampire flick Bloodlust (1992) with controversial trash filmmaker Richard Wolstencroft. His later films grew increasingly slick, e.g. Acolytes (2008) with Joel Edgerton, often co-written with his wife: actress Belinda McClory who had a small role in The Matrix (1999) and a lead in cult horror Cubbyhouse (2001). She appears here as a retired call girl advising Holly. Most recently Hewitt remade Brian Trenchard-Smith's infamous Video Nasty Turkey Shoot (2014) for veteran Ozploitation producer Anthony Ginnane.
Here Hewitt continues to push buttons with graphic nudity and sex scenes but in a fairly even-handed manner including as almost as many male full-frontal shots as provocative female flesh. While viewers are almost accustomed to filmmakers depicting the dark underbelly of American cities like New York, LA or Las Vegas, Hewitt's presentation of Sydney's red-light district King's Cross as a neon-lit hell of zombie-like street waifs, snarling thugs and curb-crawling dirty old men packs a relatively fresh punch. In its more potent, quieter stretches X: Night of Vengeance pulls off some poignant, affecting insights into the troubled and desperate protagonists. Some of that is likely due to McClory's script input although the performances are also excellent from Viva Bianca and Hanna Mangan-Lawrence, both featured players on the Spartacus television franchise. Yet while the dramatic spark of the story clearly rests in the contrasting status and personalities of Holly and Shay, the film curiously opts to keep them apart for long stretches of screen-time.
Once the women witness the murder the pace ought to pick up but strangely does not. Hewitt's flashy direction indulges in split-screen, fancy titillating angles and cocaine-fueled slow-motion sequences but still loses what momentum the plot built up to this point. Thereafter the film fragments into flashbacks, meandering subplots and pointless digressions as when Shay helps two junkies shoot up. Although Holly's dead-eyed cop boyfriend (Peter Docker) is a convincingly creepy presence the script over-eggs the killer as a ranting misogynist prone to unsubtle rants about the untrustworthy nature of women. While the performances and genuine attempts at character depth elevate X: Night of Vengeance above the rank of disposable exploitation, it is less successful at crafting taut suspense than unrelenting grimness and leans too heavily on contrivance.