Archive for January 2, 2009

Donkey Punch

January 2, 2009

The most effective part of the self-consciously “edgy” Donkey Punch is the soundtrack. A blend of techno remixes and a foreboding score by François-Eudes Chanfrault, it’s unsettling. The music seems to emerge from a muffled place of oblivious madness, where drugs are taken on a yacht at sea, bodies are for pleasure and pain, and anything can and does happen. The tone is pounding yet ethereally spooky.

The rest of Donkey Punch, despite some skillful button-pushing by first-time feature director Olly Blackburn, is hit and miss. It’s another movie that American horror fans without access to film festivals had been desperate to see since its Sundance debut in 2008 (the British import will finally come stateside, in what I assume will be a cut version, in a few weeks). As with All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, don’t get your hopes up. The movie toys with transgression but then drops it in favor of the familiar tangled-web thrills.

A donkey punch, for the uninitiated, is a likely made-up sexual practice wherein a man, riding a woman from behind, punches her in the back of the head or neck upon his orgasm — this supposedly makes her muscles spasm. “And what does the woman get out of it?” asks Kim (Jaime Winstone) of Bluey (Tom Burke), the harelipped lout relating this kink. “I don’t understand the question,” he quips. Nice guy.

The movie follows Kim and her mates Lisa (Sian Breckin) and Tammi (Nichola Burley) aboard a yacht docked off of Majorca and left in the care of four twentysomething guys, mostly interchangeable, who work on the boat. The owners are away, so the mice will play: the youngsters get up to shenanigans, including consumption of ecstasy and “Russian ice,” before Kim and Lisa retire below decks for an orgy with three of the guys. The more chaste Tammi, the designated Final Girl as seen in a thousand slasher movies, stays up top with kinder, gentler Sean (Robert Boulter). Ultimately, Sean’s meth-addled brother Josh (Julian Morris) deals the titular blow to one of the women, whereupon the movie becomes Very Bad Things on a yacht.

The desperation and paranoia get thick, as does the Karo syrup. The going gets rough and nasty, but also predictable. If you have the stomach for Donkey Punch, you’ve seen it before in some form or another. We feel locked out of the characters early on — we’re not so much introduced to the young women as thrown in with them at a party — so we don’t care who lives or dies, and the script dutifully punishes the sexually active women in a way that can’t be explained away by John Carpenter’s defense (that the girls are too busy bonking to perceive a threat). Other than the way that self-styled bad-ass Bluey squeals like a wimp in a key moment, the film lacks surprise and leaves an unpleasant aftertaste. As in Danny Boyle’s Shallow Grave, we’re roughly handled for the sheer bullying sake of it, and so that a rookie director can graduate from commercials and videos with a buzzed-about, controversial calling card.

And it has attracted some controversy: Amanda Platell of the Daily Mail called it “the most distasteful, depraved and nihilistic film I have ever had the misfortune to sit through” and bemoaned its partial funding by the UK Film Council, i.e. British taxpayers. (I’m sure Platell’s endorsement ensured a few extra tickets sold.) The movie’s greatest sin is not its distastefulness, depravity or nihilism; it’s that, unlike some throwback gorefests I’ve given high marks to, it isn’t any fun. And Michael Haneke’s Funny Games (either version) sort of spoils you for run-of-the-mill, paint-by-the-numbers thrillers like this, however hard it strains to be diabolical.

If Platell’s review, or mine, has peaked your morbid interest, don’t bother — the movie’s reputation as a shocker stuffed with gore and sex is overblown. If you’re a horror fan, you’ve already got it on your shelves several times over. Nothing much to see here.