Donkey Punch

ON

Sundance Film Festival ’08 review

Cast:

Jaime Winstone as Kim

Nichola Burley as Tammi

Sian Breckin as Lisa

Jay Taylor as Marcus

Tom Burke as Bluey

Julian Morris as Josh

Robert Boulter as Sean

Directed by Olly Blackburn

Review:

The eponymous and notorious bedroom maneuver becomes the catalyst for a high-seas nightmare when three gorgeous British gals on holiday in Spain are introduced to a trio of preppie types whose collars stand on end like the seemingly constant erections they’ve got concealed in their shorts. Shady from the start, they’re a handsome bunch waving an effective bargaining chip: A tour of the luxurious yacht they work on goes to any interested girl. So, Kim, Tammi and Lisa take Marcus, Bluey and Josh up on their offer of fun on the ocean. When they arrive, they meet Sean, a composed lad who stayed behind on the boat to watch over things. Now a group of seven, the festivities begin. Drugs are distributed, libidos are heightened and before you know it, there’s some shared sexual adventures occurring on camera and in the bedroom. Until someone winds up donkey punched and dead. Oops. Naturally, panic sets in and the two remaining girls must contend with four incredibly nervous dudes weighing the possibilities of what will happen when they return to shore with a DNA-slathered, over-sexed corpse.

The ensuing horrors that unfold over the course of a single night play out like a slick braiding of “Very Bad Things,” “Dead Calm” and “I Know What You Did Last Summer.” Except no one comes back from the dead to seek revenge. The corpse here stays very much dead. It bears a slight resemblance to “Summer” insofar that it deals with guilt and friendships fracturing under strain. What Olly Blackburn focuses on instead is the female versus male dynamic, doing what’s right versus doing what’s wrong. And at the center of this vicious morality power play is an incriminating video tape (see: crazy-mad sex in the bedroom + camera) that lays blame for the whole affair on a sole individual. This tape then trades hands as the tensions escalate. The girls obviously want to return home and report the death to the authorities. The guys, meanwhile, are biding their time to conceal evidence, fabricate a story and then report the incident to the Coast Guard.

Blackburn generates a fair amount of intensity at the launch of the film that gradually drowns itself in tired, cyclical back-and-forth arguments, lulls in the pacing and poor decision-making on behalf of the leads. Empathy is seriously lacking, especially for Sean – the one in the film who admits is one of the only people with their head screwed on straight. However, his actions are just as questionable as the rest of the group leaving no one for us to side with. With so many characters making so many inane decisions, the story loses its cerebral exploration of “What would you do in a situation like this?” and becomes more of a sleazy, claustrophobic, derivative – yet, I will say, entertaining – body count film set on a boat.

All actors involved are up for the physical demands and maintain a ripe amount of emotional exertion. Nichola Burley’s straight-laced Tammi steps up to the plate as a decent heroine; she’s effectively countered by the manipulative, determined Josh as played by Julian Morris. These two do an excellent job of representing both sides of the film’s central struggle.

Technically-speaking, “Donkey Punch” is proficient showcasing some beautiful work by Nanu Segal, however, Blackburn places a lot of emphasis on the soundtrack (which seems culled from L.A.’s Big Sonic Heaven on Indie 103.1) and score by François Eudes-Chanfrault (“High Tension”). It’s quite good and pulses with sex appeal even if it can get a bit obtrusive in the beginning. Eudes-Chanfrault’s work is moody (reminiscent of Michael Mann’s “Heat” soundtrack) and actually lends many of the film’s scenes more importance than their worth.

The unflinching violence lends “Donkey Punch” its true kick (a boat motor demise is particularly awesome) – and there’s a good deal of unpredictability to this thriller – but there’s not enough to keep the lackluster script afloat.