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Lord of the Flies for the 21st Century?
A cinema review of DONKEY PUNCH by Lord Summerisle

After hearing some buzz on the movie grapevine about this micro-budget British erotic horror-thriller entity named Donkey Punch I naturally jumped at the chance to see it as soon as it graced local screens. As with all films that carry the weight of hype on their shoulders, I tried to go into the cinema with a media untarnished countenance, but I was fearing a clumsy Larry Clark meets Nick Love with a hint of American slasher crudeness. I was not totally mistaken about this, yet wrong enough to be able to genuinely enjoy this film.

Opening with the sun-kissed commercialism of Mallorca's holiday resorts and cutting to an extreme close up of a pretty girl's half submerged face in a bath (a shot echoed in the closing frames), we are introduced to three young fun-seeking Leeds lasses hitting the town. Their optimism is fuelled by meeting three English guys who invite them to their yacht for a private party. They cautiously accept and after some time in the dock take the party to the open sea and soon a drug fuelled orgy ensues. A prior conversation about sex prompts a moment of violence during their debauchery that descends into a spiral of confusion, dissent and further bloodiness, ending in tragedy.

The young British cast of unknowns hold their own as director Oliver Blackburn slowly cranks up the tension in his first feature. I was expecting to dislike these people more than I did, expecting Danny Dyer-type idiots in the male roles, but there are a mix of Southern classes in the group of four, and their dynamic is surprisingly convincing, thankfully the entire cast remain on the good side of believable, even when things become chaotic. Jaime Winstone turns in a spirited performance, showing that she is very much her father's daughter, yet she by no means over shadows the lesser known actors of the small ensemble, who all provide a solid backbone to a narrative that could so easily have become trite.

Another string to director/writer Blackburn's bow was the pounding and vital soundtrack. As with all Warp films, the tracks are picked from the fertile ground of Warp Records' contemporary electronic canon, creating the edgy, indie-dance sound that propels our protagonists through the nightmare. From optimistic anthems like the Rex The Dog remix of The Knife's fantastic 'Heartbeats' at the beginning of their holiday to Aphex Twin-esque digital twitters and psychedelic synth murmurings during drug fuelled sailing and blankets of sinister noise when the shit really starts to hit the fan. This would be a very different film without such a soundtrack and kudos to the director for picking tunes that very much tap into the collective consciousness of contemporary Britain's trendy young fun seekers, a benefit of a youthful director writing about what he knows. This is also why the dialogue never seems stale or convoluted like so many films about youth made by the older.

The film's violent and sexual content have caused some inevitable fuss in the media, yet although there are graphic depictions of both I found neither gratuitous. Its deliberate attempt to shock may work better on the mainstream audience than that of a seasoned indie/arthouse cinephile, but I found the downbeat yet somewhat predictable ending satisfactory. This is a generic hybrid, and a good one. There are hints of the American slasher here, in the inventive murder weapons for one, but there is also the gritty Brit-pic realism and psychological thriller aspect in the mix. The small cast and limited set evokes a play in its intimacy, and the often handheld digital footage and naturalism of light sometimes put me in mind of Dogme 95.

This is a very British film as well. Lack of interest in distribution in the U.S. due to it's 'confusing British accent and dialogue' confirms just how British. A poor excuse for dismissing a film and one which was not cited as such a problem with the likes of Trainspotting, a film similar in its themes.

Donkey Punch clearly does not have a particularly original premise, yet it is a classic one – since the days of the ancient Greeks violent tragedies have been popular in all human cultures. It stands out from other recent cinematic efforts because of its fresh and innovative use of a minimal budget, great performances and a frighteningly plausible disintegration of civilised values, the likes of which William Golding would no doubt appreciate.

Donkey Punch

UK 2008
99 mins
Oliver Blackburn
Robin Gutch
Mark Herbert
Angus Lamont
Oliver Blackburn
David Bloom
Nanu Segal
Kate Evans
François-Eudes Chanfrault
production design
Delarey Wagener
Jaime Winstone
Jay Taylor
Julian Morris
Nichola Burley
Robert Boulter
Sian Breckin
release date (UK)
18 July 2008
review posted
22 July 2008