Donkey Punch

Optimum Releasing
Oliver Blackburn/United Kingdom 2008

Oliver Blackburn’s debut film received favorable festival notices at Sundance and Edinburgh ahead of its UK release this week, but despite the director’s efforts to cast it as a departure from your typical modern British horror, Donkey Punch ends up cautiously relying on obvious genre clichés.

The set up is promising: While clubbing in Mallorca, three hedonistic Leeds lasses are persuaded to continue partying on the luxury yacht that’s in the care of four wannabe playboys from the Home Counties. After much flirting, drug-taking and discussing of violent sexual practices, the soirée moves into the bedroom. But Josh (Julian Morris), the youngest and most inexperienced of the boys, misconstrues an ambiguous sexual instruction from Bluey (Tom Burke, with echoes of Derek Bentley in Let Him Have It?) that results in a tragic and ambiance-spoiling death.

During this nightmarish sequence, at least, Blackburn certainly proves himself to be technically capable, as he crafts a scene that memorably mixes narcotic eroticism and uneasy suspense. Unfortunately, after such a high the obligatory come-down is moodily anticlimactic.

As the boys and girls argue, turn against each other and end up resorting to more violence, there’s a sense that the script misses a trick by failing to adequately exploit the claustrophobia of the situation. Instead of building tension and accentuating the fragility of the youngsters’ inter-relationships, the film simply proceeds mercilessly from one reduction in survivor numbers to the next, in drably precise 10-minute sections.

Despite this, the film is successful in comparison to many other recent British shockers, most of which unsuccessfully attempt to add comedy into the mix. We are unfortunately subjected to the stock “mockney” geezer role that’s a signature of UK cinema, in the form of the character Bluey, but Burke is nowhere near as annoying as the ubiquitous Danny Dyer.

The performances are generally inconsistent throughout, and it’s no surprise to learn that Blackburn shot the film sequentially, as some of the cast grow noticeably in confidence as the film progresses. The role of Josh isn’t as interestingly realized by Morris as it could have been, lacking an edge that could have hinted at darker impulses.

The exoticism of the setting and the classy presentation of sex and violence should ensure that Donkey Punch has a kick at the British box office, but Blackburn might be better stretched attempting something more challenging.

© 2008 James Rocarols. All rights reserved.

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