Donkey Punch (2008)

When it’s on: Monday, 20 (11.15 pm)
Channel: Film4
IMDb Link

Urban myths, huh? Gotta love ’em. The ‘Donkey Punch’ describes a sex act that comes straight out of playground banter, the sort of thing that young lads talk about but would never get the opportunity to do. Click here for the Urban Dictionary’s definitions, and then hopefully join me in wondering what’s wrong with showing some good old passion. Needless to say, it’s something I would never, ever engage with and I pity the poor fools who even consider either delivering or receiving such treatment. No one deserves it.

All the same, the term was well enough known to provide the hook for a low budget British thriller, Donkey Punch, made in 2008 by Oliver Blackburn, and looking beyond the title and the promise of sun worshipping, scantily clad Brits getting involved in the sort of business they wouldn’t tell their mums about, it’s surprisingly effective and well made. It reminded me of that other nautical Adrenalin ride, Dead Calm, in using a single location – most of it takes place on a boat – to sustain a mood of claustrophobia, people locked together in cramped quarters where there’s really little running space, where violence is the outcome of sheer desperation and heightened terror.

Sian Breckin, Jaime Winstone and Nichola Burley play three young girls from Leeds, who are on holiday in Mallorca after one of them has suffered a painful break-up. Determined to forget the past and enjoy themselves, they go out on the sort of ‘Club’ style bender that any self respecting travel agent would love to use in its promotional material. Fun, booze and good times ensue. And then they run into a bunch of upper class lads who persuade them to visit the luxury yacht they happen to be crewing. They pilot the boat out to sea. Laughs are had. Drugs are imbibed. And then they start having sex, which leads to one of the men (Julian Morris) at the height of passion delivering the donkey punch and accidentally breaking Breckin’s neck.

An evening of hedonistic fun suddenly becomes tense. The men close ranks, suggest dumping the body overboard and claiming to the authorities that she fell into the sea and could not be recovered. Morris’s character has a slightly sinister knowledge of maritime legislation depending on which part of the sea they choose to lose the corpse. They discuss this without including the two remaining women, who are understandably terrified and take on an increased ‘prisoner’ status whilst the fate of their friend is decided for them. Bluey (Tom Burke) is a paranoid substance abuser. Marcus (Jay Taylor) has a loose leadership of the group and just wants to get the episode over with. Robert Boulter plays Sean, the one member of the male faction who shows any kind of remorse despite not being involved with the sex session, at the time chatting with Tammi (Burley). Josh (Morris) refuses to take any responsibility and just comes across as an odious, sociopathic shit.

Poor Breckin is duly buried at sea, weighed down with an anchor to help her body sink. But by now the men have made enemies of their former guests, who start fighting back, sure that they aren’t going to come out of this situation in any good way. The levels of violence increase. People are locked in rooms. By the end, only one of the characters will get away, though the ultimate fate awaiting them is ambiguous, suggesting a night of debauched fun has led to undoubted tragedy for all.

The other title it reminds me of a little is The Descent, Neil Marshall’s terrifying horror about potholers facing subterranean creatures of nightmare with thousands of tonnes of rock pressing down on them. Donkey Punch isn’t a patch on that clever little shocker, but it has its moments, smartly putting a group of irresponsible young people together and then leaving them to deal with a shocking moment that they have little chance or motivation to resolve responsibly. It does begin to fall apart later in the film, when some of the deaths are a little too contrived just to fit neatly within conventions of the genre rather than staying true to the characters, but there’s some fun to be had from working out who will survive and who has their cards coming to them.

As usual with these things, the more virtuous and virginal characters have a better chance of making it; the wanton likes of Breckin are doomed virtually from the start. More impressive is the attempt to find a downside to all those terrible ‘holiday rep’ shows, the consequences of buying into the sun-kissed, self-gratifying lifestyles advertised so wantonly and without any degree of responsibility. For the most part, there’s something frighteningly plausible about it all, the terror very real, with performances – particularly Burley – that more often than not hit the right notes. It’s a film that has certainly divided the critics, with the Daily Mail going for the obvious jugular in expanding the synopsis into a rant about moral outrage, whilst other, more sensible reviews have picked on the general unlikeability of the characters to ruminate on why they don’t care about their fates. I think it’s slickly made and worth checking out.

Donkey Punch: ***

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2 Replies to “Donkey Punch (2008)”

  1. I’m kind of intrigued now. I wouldn’t have given this a second thought had it not been for your piece and I’m curious to see the movie now.

    1. Thanks Colin, and I know what you mean – noticed it in the schedules, saw it was available on Amazon and thought I’d give it a go. I wasn’t expecting a lot and ended up pleasantly surprised. It’s not brilliant, but it’s better than the hype and reputation might suggest.

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