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by Michael Koresky
January 23, 2009 5:53 AM
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Bad Trip: Olly Blackburn’s “Donkey Punch”

A scene from Olly Blackburn's "Donkey Punch." Image courtesy of Optimum Releasing.

[An indieWIRE review from Reverse Shot.]

The trend may have originated with Danny Boyle's "Shallow Grave," but there's been a distinct thematic shift in horror films over the past decade or so, from the struggle between good and evil to the revelation of the evil that apparently resides in all of us. Evidently, filmmakers think the latter brings with it more inherent profundity; often, though, it's just an underhanded way of pumping up tired genre tactics with supposedly philosophical, but often paltry and merely cynical, ruminations about human nature. It's usually a sign of banality: Eli Roth, for example, goes this route, implying with the "Hostel" films' ridiculous final-act turnarounds, that we all have the tendency to turn bloody butcher should the opportunity arise. The result is that these films chastise their audience more than entertain, reveling in jaw-dropping, squalid moments of their characters' desperate self-preservation and thoughtless decision-making.

The latest of this type to come down the pike, British director Olly Blackburn's "Donkey Punch," is a particularly nasty piece of work. The plot set-up doesn't merit much more than "Variety"-esque dash-off, so: Three cute girls from Leeds vacationing in Spain hook up with four fit Brit boys they meet at a random party, and they all agree to share a weekend on one of the guys' luxury yacht. Sex and drug fueled chaos ensues. The early scenes of the film are particularly tough-going -- seemingly uninterested in individual character traits, Blackburn would rather drop us in the midst of debauchery with a cross-section of interchangeable young studs and slags. Initially, this seems like another "state of our youth" cri de coeur, a British "Alpha Dog," if you must. But then, after a cool dip in the serene, impossibly blue Mediterranean, the conversation turns to unorthodox sex acts, and Guy with Harelip creases his eyes and glowers, "Ever done a donkey punch?"

Guy with Harelip (who looks like the heavier male singer from Ace of Base, while the rest of the boys, leaner and prettier, might as well have emerged from Take That) proceeds to describe the scenario--it's when you slug a girl square in the back of the neck during rear-entry--and considering the film's title, it's only a matter of time before the ecstasy, the oft-wielded camcorder, Slutty Blonde, and Suspiciously Quiet Guy make for a deadly combination. Guys turn against girls; guy turns against guy; threats are made, knives come out, flares are shot through torsos ("Dead Calm," anyone?), and one handy propeller ends up covered in jugular gore. Don't say we didn't warn you.

In all fairness, Blackburn's direction does tighten up considerably after the first body drops (an event heralded with a mercifully brief use of fish-eye lens), and there is some interest drummed up by the extremity and seeming inextricability of the dire situation. If any one of the people onboard registered as a plausible, flawed, human being then perhaps "Donkey Punch" might have reverberated as something more than a partly successful first plunge into gore filmmaking. But since it takes a hell of a long time before anyone acts credibly under the extreme circumstances (the first time someone says "This is not right!" is when the first body is already tied in a sheet and about two feet away from being sent overboard), the film is just another mean-spirited dive into shallow genre waters.

[Michael Koresky is co-founder and editor of Reverse Shot and the managing editor and staff writer of the Criterion Collection.]

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