Kayden Kross took her time writing her main feature contender for this year’s awards season, a Rod Serling-worthy story of sexual awakening, compulsion and, ultimately, annihilation called “Drive.” The project was always conceived to allow Angela White to stretch out as an actress, and conversations between her and Kross about her own insecurities and sexual gray areas inform the way her character was written and the performance captured on camera.
The film opens with a quote by Maggie Nelson, a brilliant novelist, poet and essayist who is renowned as one of the most canny explorers of the feminine sexual psyche today. Kross excerpts a poisoned aphorism about the appetite for self-destruction built into human desire. And then it’s off to the races in Kross’ version of the “Twilight Zone.”
Without telegraphing the genre nature of this (a)morality tale, Kross puts her protagonist Angela through one of those journeys into madness and ego-challenges that are familiar from the literature and cinema of the psychologically fantastic. “Fight Club,” “Persona,” “Carnival of Souls,” “Tully” and even adult classics like “Café Flesh” are reference points, deliberate or not, that could make for a perfectly reasonable double-feature with “Drive.”
It’s no spoiler to say that Maitland Ward, this year’s revelation as a triumphant case of a mainstream actress who made the plunge into hardcore pornography, plays the larger-than-life role of a presence who leads Angela through her ordeal. Angel, demon, soul or just an impossibly voluptuous tarot reader in a derelict section of an everycity, Ward makes letting go of all inhibitions irresistible for Angela — and for anyone watching “Drive.”
The movie’s sex scenes have a before-and-after point: the first part of the film shows Angela’s exploration of threesomes, voyeurism and domination and submission, and also the opening up of her sexuality as she’s dragged by Maitland Ward’s Imp of Sexual Self-Realization through several scenarios.
A threesome with her hunky husband, played by Manuel Ferrara, and compliant sex toy Ivy LeBelle (her irrepressible, bountiful usual self) leads into a dream-like moment of watching two anonymous men (studio darling Small Hands and indie star Owen Gray) degrade a willing Brooklyn Gray by a moodily lit dumpster.
Then comes a revelation: a mini-movie within “Drive” concerning Angela and Manuel at their workplace and a nubile young employee played by Gabbie Carter. Kross gives White a monologue that feels too real because it is almost verbatim something that the celebrated Australian-born model told the director about her body issues.
And Kross deliberately cast Carter, who’s starting her career, barely out of her teenage years, and is already known and celebrated, as White is, for her breasts. Angela-the-character witnesses the flirtation between Manuel and a younger version of herself and channels her anger into a nasty performance of dominance over both her straying husband and the out-of-her-depth young woman.
But Angela’s ravishing of Gabbie Carter using Manuel Ferrara essentially as a human dildo is just the appetizer for the second half of the film. Maitland Ward drags Angela (literally, by the collar and chain depicted in the much-shared cover image) into a warehouse where the mother of all sex parties is taking place.
This is the tour-de-force, a “Dante’s Inferno” of lust shooting sparks in all directions that harkens to porn’s first bona fide art-film, 1972’s “Behind the Green Door.” This extended “warehouse sex party” sequence is revolutionary given the state of the industry in 2019: Kross uses her clout to demolish distinctions between straight sex, gay sex, trans sex, sub/dom sex, degradation, dominance, heaven and hell.
Angela is put through a gauntlet of bodies, fluids, frictions, even disembodied latex hands and mouths that push her forward in her drive to unleashing her own drives, embodied in a tall redhead with a devilish smile.
A who’s-who of talent takes part in the sordid happenings at that warehouse, which feel more lived-in and sensorial apt than the antiseptic standard set for the mainstream by “Eyes Wide Shut.” Kross’ sex party is both stylish and gritty.
Unlike most real-world sex parties, this one also houses gorgeous, raunchy sexual athletes like Lena Paul, Alina Lopez, Autumn Falls (in an epic reverse gangbang of Ferrara), Aubrey Kate, Emily Willis, Kira Noir, Mick Blue, Joanna Angel, Wolf Hudson, Rob Piper, Markus Dupree, Pierce Paris, Dante Colle and Tommy Wood. Tour-de-force, we said, and without exaggeration.
And then it all ends (and begins, “Twilight Zone”-style) in circular ruins, as Jorge Luis Borges would say.
The bottom line is that Kross’ understated boundary-pushing is something porn fans will get used to — a mental mindfuck can be nice, as Dr. Frank N. Furter would say.
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