THE HITCHCOCKIAN EROTIC THRILLER “X” AVAILABLE ON DIGITAL
Queer Camp Melodrama Available on Most Digital Platforms & DVD
Reviewed by Ishrat Jahaiara Quazi: Scott J. Ramsey makes his debut with the movie ‘X’ and creates a world where no fantasy is too obscene unless you’re Christian King. ‘X’ is unique in its production process as they highlight that their team mostly consists of queer women and queer people on-screen and behind the scenes. Made with a budget of $150,000, ‘X’ is a narrative-style story written by Hannah Wiliam Jost and Ramsey.
Armed only with masquerade masks and invitations, guests arrive at a seaside estate for a charity ball hosted by a mysterious foundation. With identities hidden from their fellow party-goers, they partake in the sinfully seductive surroundings with their charming host, known as X. The monthly masked debauchery is all fun and games until the arrival of an unexpected guest from Christian’s past, who threatens to bring to light her darkest secret.
The main cast includes Hope Raymond as Christian King, Eliza Boivin as Stella Marie, Brian Smick as Danny(Queen), Zack Cowan as Jackson, and Valerie Façhman as Lynda. The movie tries to use different mediums of storytelling which includes an additional three stand-alone music videos. The music videos of the songs, “Queen,” “Knave” and “Fool” extend the adult fantasy world through the use of fairytale aesthetics. The songs are actually my favorite part of this film.
‘X’ creates a safe space for anyone to act out their wildest fantasies. The movie is split into five acts which are similar to Shakespearean tragedies. I think the writers do a good job in staying true to the five acts of a tragedy, the introduction, the complications, the climax, the explanation and understanding, and finally the revelation. The plot does follow that structure, no doubt about it. The story begins with Stella attending Christian’s lavish masquerade sex party. Stella keeps breaking these unspoken rules about the parties and is soon taken to meet the King, Christian, and soon we get this feeling that Christian is a bit unsure about Stella’s presence. The party security treats Stella as a threat when she’s taken to Christian, to which Christian replies, “We don’t have to be nazis.” I really don’t see the need for that comparison when Stella isn’t going through anything close to what actually happened during Nazi Germany. I think it’s time we stop comparing everything and anything to the genocide faced by Jewish people.
The plot makes it clear that this is Christian’s story as it doesn’t flesh out the rest of the characters. There’s base-level knowledge about the other main characters but, nothing that would make an impression on you. Going back to Christian’s worry about Stella, we learn that Stella knows something about Christian. Stella is a cam girl in the movie and that’s important to point out because the parties are attended by people who are “well off” in society. I feel like Stella’s character was only there to show how every other character has a better life which is a bit weird to me because we shouldn’t use BIPOC people as trauma porn for the reason why others should have basic human decency.
I am not trying to spoil the plot so, here’s a spoiler warning.
The secret really is what causes a moral dilemma for the King and drives the narrative. Christian is a voyeur. However, what makes Christian an antagonist isn’t that she’s a voyeur but, it’s the fact that she’s more of a peeping tom who watches without consent. There’s this negative connotation towards voyeurism because there’s an assumption that everybody must always enjoy doing the act than watching it. That is a conversation that needs to be had in our communities about what sex and pleasure is. At the same time, the movie doesn’t directly address the fact that Christian was in fact violating everybody attending her parties. Like it’s part of the story but, not in a way where there’s an education about the violations.
The plot seems to be suggesting that the problem with Christian is she’s a voyeur more than emphasizing how consent was missing. I feel that the movie didn’t have a strong enough ending to talk about Christian’s actions and consequences. I also think that the dialogues were very natural, however, the acting in some parts felt awkward. Boivin did a fantastic job in acting out the burlesque performance. I was really mesmerized by it. Raymond’s strongest points were during Act 5 where we get to see her character’s downfall and having a mental breakdown. Christian went through a lot of stuff and has trauma. While that doesn’t excuse her actions, it is important to her character’s background. Cowan was a bit cringy for me to watch because the dialogue delivery wasn’t the best. It felt like he was forced to act out a script from those language learning textbooks in front of the whole class. Façhman’s character is a famous singer in the movie, and I thought she was very charming for the few scenes she showed up in. And, Smick was also a bit awkward here and there but, some of his strongest points were the interactions between his and Raymond’s character. Their dynamic was fun to watch.
The aesthetics of this movie is on point. It’s filmed on a Red, Go Pro, and Super 8 camera to give the camerapeople freedom in moving around. A few scenes did feel uncomfortable because of the positioning of the camera but, the color scheme was beautifully chosen. It is shot entirely on location in the Big Sur. The color scheme and location are both based on the main character, Christian, and the location. Ramsey explained that the location and colors represent Raymond’s character being trapped in this beautiful and privileged lifestyle yet failing to notice the beauty of it which is accurately perfect.
Lastly, being a part of the LGBTQIA+ community, I was excited to watch this film. I do love that the creators didn’t make sexuality a big part of the movie in an exploitive way. Additionally, I am not interested in stories about rich people who get to act out their fantasies and their only major problem is that they are a predator. So as far as the idea for the movie goes, it wasn’t revolutionary to me. But, ‘X’ is an independent film and when you learn about the process of filmmaking, it’s clear that this was a passion project made with love and dedication. The cast and crew often took on many roles to make sure this project saw the light of day. I think that’s the beauty of independent filmmaking. Independent film crews always put their soul into the whole process.
Ramsey mentions how his film is full of flaws including the message of the film. He says the beauty of flaws is that they’re very human and real. And, I completely agree with that. I personally love art that doesn’t claim to be perfect. I think it’s very elitist to say that anyone person’s art is the most important or that there’s a right way to create art in its many forms. There’s beauty in the flaws but, there also should be accountability as we see with the main character, Christian, because some flaws are more like toxic actions that harm people more than it makes an artistic statement. There’s obviously a difference between flaws and predatory behavior which is also something this movie should talk about but, didn’t in a satisfactory way.
This film is packed with artistic creativity and I hope I get to see more of Ramsey’s work. I think a lot of famous filmmakers have this pretentious vibe to them. But, Ramsey acknowledges that the project isn’t perfect but, it’s still a labor of love. And, that does count for something in the creative world.
X will be available to buy or rent on all major digital platforms including iTunes/Apple TV, Amazon, Google Play, and VUDU.
The filmmakers released a complimentary music album called “At the Devil’s Ball” on Feb. 16th with standalone music videos, as well, for an immersive multi-media experience.