Pleasure and pain -- for any film to evoke either emotion takes a considerable effort, for better or worse, and to extract one sensation out of the other takes a defter touch yet. Olly Blackburn's Donkey Punch starts out with its characters indulging in all manner of proud debauchery, and when they come to bear the consequences of their behavior, their pain becomes our pleasure. That admittedly may not spell out 'entertainment' for everyone, but it wouldn't be entertaining in the hands of just anyone, and Blackburn takes one boat, one body, a rising tide of panic and a rising number of corpses and uses them all to craft the best bad news possible.


Tammi (Nichola Burley) is swept off to the Spanish shores of Mallorca by her Brit gal pals (Jamie Winstone and Sian Breckin) in their effort to distract her from a recently philandering boyfriend, but it doesn't take them long to find new distractions from the fun and sun in the form of four young chaps (Julian Morris, Robert Boulter, Tom Burke and Jay Taylor) and the one very big yacht that most of them serve as crew on. It's this meet-cute that so swiftly lands the ladies in trouble -- someone suggest lifting a bottle of champagne, they do it. Someone else suggests taking the boat out for a quick trip, and soon enough, they all head out to sea and pop in some E; it's anchors aweigh and inhibitions away on the blue seas and under the blue skies.

However, talk turns to that of two-backed beasts and maneuvers of lore -- namely, the eponymous move, in which a female partner is smacked in the back of the neck in an effort to lend one's sexual climax an involutary muscle spasm and, by extension, additional enjoyment. Well, once a couple of couples head below deck, one of the lucky guys gives one of the lucky girls a nice, hard smack to the head and kinda sorta kills her, with someone else naturally filming the whole thing. As tempers and sympathies run shorter and shorter in the wake of this development, the one night stand becomes more of a last-man-standing survival situation.

Everyone is either a victim or an accomplice, with the women more often falling into the former category as the guys land in the latter. Even if the gents prove somewhat interchangable from time to time, to see them squirm alongside the gals, shifting from sniveling to scheming, from bullying to bleeding, is the film's primary purpose, and what warped fun it makes for. Olly Blackburn and co-writer David Bloom's series of unfortunate events plays out tautly and convincingly for the most part, and watching the gender roles swerve and tilt on the twin axes of morality and mortality is only part of the enjoyment (one assault implies a gleefully reciprocated sense of unwelcome penetration; that's what you get for forcing the ladies to work in the kitchen).

The coast of South Africa subs for the coast of Spain well enough; the cast seems feasibly loose in their sense of priorities, let alone humanity; the production looks every bit as costly as the 76-foot vessel at its center (which reportedly cost four times the actual budget of the film); and what few practical effects are needed or stunts are used prove exceedingly effective in depicting the physical toll of the ensemble's collective distress and shared desperation. Like its namesake, Donkey Punch is a naughty bit of fun that, while definitely not for everyone, smacks willing viewers around a bit but makes it seem so good throughout, even when -- especially when -- things get so bad.
CATEGORIES Reviews, Cinematical