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  • Quite unsettllng at times, Kayden Kross's spotlight on Maitland Ward consciously transcends porn by delivering a dramatic, tension-filled frame in her well-written set-up scenes that lead to the promised and kinky gonzo sex.

    Ward provides her an excellent vessel to bring her script to life, reciting the sharp dialog with amazing sarcasm, cynicism and condescension. It's perhaps a bit over-the-top but what might be a drawback in a mainstream production proves to be quite effective in establishing a perverse mood for XXX payoffs.

    The four scenes from KK's "Deeper" website are linked by the characters of dom Ward and her dom husband, not the usual ying/yang couple. Submission and subservience is reserved for the people Ward recruits for the couple's enjoyment.

    "Secretary" stars Riley Reid, whose serene underplaying is a fine foil for Ward's malevolence. A job interview with more than the usual baiting and trick questions is made exceedingly sinister by Ward's readings. Certainly the classic Spader/Gyllenhaal movie of that name is the starting point here, but KK goes way beyond its BDSM power games into a bracing critique of our culture. Poor little rich girl Riley is the recipient of quite a bit of abuse, but of course she cannot only take it but as a superior sex worker makes the threesome with our perverse couple seem like child's play.

    Porn's top starlet of the past year or two commands attention via her inimitable breasts in a more conventional scene: Ward picks her up at a bus stop after Gabbie has suffered car trouble and takes her home to hubby Markus to lightly abuse sexually. As hired stand-in for Maitland, Gabbie gets the last laugh, winning a car for outperforming Dupree in the sack.

    Newer starlets Izzy Lush and Naomi Swann prove their mettle in a BDSM threesome with Markus planned by Ward that is pure gonzo but executed with fine tension and style.

    And perhaps the show's centerpiece is a group therapy session for sex addicts that is perfectly written, directed and acted. New member of the group Maitland violates all the rules, cigarette smoking and then violating the "safe space" for confessionals by ridiculing and humiliating member Ryan McLane before the group rather than sympathizing with his plight. Also giving a fine performance here is RIley Steele, that bombshell of a decade ago over at Digital Playground where she worked alongside KK. Scene builds to the usual XXX content, a high-energy interracial sex bout for Ward with group member Pressure and his oversized cock.

    This particular scene, titled "Higher Power" raises a nagging question that has arisen whenever pornographers take their work seriously, dating back to the groundbreaking work of Gerard Damiano ("Devil in Miss Jones", "Memories within Miss Aggie"). That is: could the serious film survive without the crutch of including considerable explicit sex footage?

    In other words, now that KK has proven herself to be an accomplished film director, could she make a film without hardcore sex? This is a more serious issue now than during the theatrical porn era of Damiano's classics, as sex scenes now tend to run half an hour or more rather than 5 or 10 minutes long, so they inevitably disrupt the pacing and tension of the movie. "Higher Power" would play wonderfully as a brief one-acter wthout any sex, and Ward has certainly made the transition from mainstream movie/tv star to hardcore porn actress, but I doubt if KK could find a mainstream venue for her work -no fault of her own.