Donkey Punch

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Sundance Film Festival

PARK CITY -- The recent horror-film subgenre of mischievous young people on holiday getting into more trouble than planned takes to the open waters in "Donkey Punch," a formulaic yet clever chiller that offers generous doses of sex and violence aboard a luxury yacht.

Its characters grow increasingly crazed and frantic in Act 2, and by the third, the filmmakers seem to catch the virus: That's when the meticulously reasoned psychological underpinnings of the group paranoia and logical design of character interactions go overboard in an absurd, indeed laughable orgy of grotesque deaths.

The British film, a first effort with a modest budget and no-name cast from director Olly Blackburn, keeps its eye on its commercial hooks long enough to reel in audiences for a couple of weeks of theatrical play before segueing to cable and DVD rentals.

The film neatly develops a sense of foreboding even in its frivolous first minutes where young Brits with handsome bodes frolic in the bars and on the beach of Mallorca while on holiday. Three girls from dreary old Leeds are out for a weekend of fun and perhaps naughtiness. Sexually confident Lisa (Sian Breckin) and free-spirited Kim (Jaime Winstone) are determined to distract downcast Tammi (Nichola Burley) from recent boyfriend woes.

They hit the bars and run into three blokes from London who coax them back to the yacht they are crewing on for the summer. Marcus (Jay Taylor) is a smooth operator, but Bluey (Tom Burke) has a look of danger in his face. Josh (Julian Morris) comes across as an innocent, so interest lies in how everyone will pair off. Then the girls meet the fourth crew member, Sean (Robert Boulter), Josh's older brother and the most mature of the young men.

Kim promises the reluctant Tammi the party will last for "only a drink," but this gets forgotten when everyone decides a late afternoon cruise would be ideal. Champagne leads to party drugs and frank talk of sex. When Bluey colorfully describes a "donkey punch," a sharp blow to the neck of a female during intercourse to increase male pleasure, you just know that Blackburn and co-writer David Bloom have found the opening for their thrill ride.

Soon everyone heads to a bedroom below deck except for Tammi and Sean, who remain above for a meaningful conversation, designating these two as the adults of this lot. Lisa and Bluey naturally pair off, followed by Marcus and Kim. Josh whips out a video camera and, again, you just know that tape is going to play a role.

In a spirit of male camaraderie, Bluey offers Josh his chance with a compliant Lisa and against absolutely no expectations Josh tries out that donkey punch. Moments later, Lisa is dead. The group divides along gender lines about how to respond.

The men all want the women to tell police that Lisa, dazed by drugs and alcohol, fell overboard. The women opt for the truth. Sean probably would agree with the women except that his younger brother is the one who will rot in a Spanish jail. Quite believably, the women do not know how to summon help in a foreign language with ship-to-shore equipment they cannot operate.

The men, lead by bad-boy Bluey, enforce their point of view with brute force so the body is buried at sea. Soon after, a kitchen knife gets buried in Bluey's chest. The contest of savagery and survival is on. A rifle turns up and is pointed at the women. A distress flare goes off in someone's gut. A woman breaks out of confinement by breaking through a glass door with her body. Then someone uses the propeller blades of an outboard motor.

The bloodbath loses all logic as the filmmakers ignore fairly well drawn characters in favor of grotesque deaths. That third act needed a real twist, something to surprise an audience while elevating their story above the usual cinematic carnage. It never gets one.

The film, actually shot in waters off South Africa, does get maximum mileage out of virtually a single set, a few lethal props and seven actors. But a much smarter film was possible.

DONKEY PUNCH
The U.K. Film Council and Film4 in association with Screen Yorkshire and EM Media present a Warp X production
Credits:
Director: Olly Blackburn
Screenwriters: Olly Blackburn, David Bloom
Producers: Angus Lamont, Mark Herbert, Robin Gutch
Executive producers: Peter Carlton, Lizzie Francke, Hugo Heppell, Will Clarke
Director of photography: Nanu Segal
Production designer: Delarey Wagener
Music: Francois-Eudes Chanfrault
Costume designer: Sarah Ryan
Editor: Kate Evans
Cast:
Sean: Robert Boulter
Lisa: Sian Breckin
Bluey: Tom Burke
Tammi: Nichola Burley
Josh: Julian Morris
Marcus: Jay Taylor
Kim: Jaime Winstone
Running time -- 98 minutes
No MPAA rating

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