Focus On : Donkey Punch

Three young women – Kim (Jaime Winston), Lisa (Sian Breckin) and Tammi (Nichola Burley) – are on holiday in Spain when they meet up with four young men – Josh (Julian Morris), Bluey (Tom Burke), Marcus (Jay Taylor) and Sean (Robert Boulter) – who invite them to party on the yacht which they’re “babysitting” and on which they work as crew. They take the yacht out to sea and the party’s excesses soon lead to a very large problem – an accidental death, courtesy of one foolhardy attempt to perform the mythical “donkey punch” during sex (if you really have no clue what it is, might I suggest urbandictionary.com for an enlightening definition). Feeling the guilt and the fear of legal culpability mixed with the strain of panic, how far will they go to save their own skins? As the paranoia gets out of hand, it seems that outright murder might not be out of the question…

Donkeypunch

My, how this one had the morally righteous brigade positively shaking with apoplectic indignation – “Donkey Punch is the vilest film I’ve ever seen” is the header of one article the Daily Mail saw fit to print, which you can peruse here: www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1035810/Donkey-Punch-vilest-film-Ive-seen-says-AMANDA-PLATELL.html . For a horror fan this vilification is a wearily familiar press tactic and brings to mind the whole “Video Nasties” debacle once again, for just as the author of this thoroughly uninformed and confused piece tries to justify her opinion by first stating that she has no prejudices against the horror genre (and sounding for all the world like those people who, when they’re about to launch into a bigoted diatribe, preface it with “Some of my best friends are [insert group in question], but…” as if it somehow manages to balance their hate-fuelled bile), her attempt to seem balanced merely shows that she is versed only fleetingly in the genre and at its most mainstream (referencing her liking for The Blair Witch Project and even commenting “Gory as it was, I adored Silence of the Lambs…” – she must have been watching an altogether different version of Silence of the Lambs to the one I saw to call it “gory”, since apart from in the final act when we see Lecter escape there’s hardly so much as a drop of blood present, Christ alone knows what she’d think if confronted with Pete Jackson’s Braindead). This is reminiscent of the events which led to the “Video Nasties” furore in that it reflects how, back then, people who had no exposure to the genre outside, say, Hammer horror movies (and that might have been at a push) were suddenly having The Evil Dead pushed in their faces, so naturally kneejerk reactions from already conservative-minded individuals followed, and the rest is history. The same applies here, Donkey Punch will be absolutely nothing extraordinary to anyone who’s into horror and that’s even if their tastes don’t extend towards the sleazier shades of the exploitation spectrum, but for anyone with mainstream tastes who comes to this then yes, there’s probably enough on display (drug and booze-fuelled sex, loose morals and death, oh my!) to send them into a tizzy. If Ms. Platell’s comments weren’t enough to display her relative genre-ignorance, at one point in the article she calls Donkey Punch “torture porn”, and the semantic debate as to whether this phrase is idiotic and misleading aside, it’s clearly misused here as it has nothing in common with the “torture porn” stable of horror.  This has to make one wonder whether she was being careless, clueless or perhaps just bandying around a particularly evocative buzzphrase which, like the article’s headline, would be bound to whip up a certain core readership’s fury irrespective of whether they’ve actually seen the movie or not. But then that would be to suggest there’s sloppy, sensationalist journalism allowed to be published in tabloids, and who could ever think such a thing, eh?

Donkeypunch

In some respects Donkey Punch has this criticism coming, because not only does the film knowingly pick subject matter which is bound to be controversial and stir-up the “This film is the end of civilisation as we know it!” groups out there (who coincidentally also seem to argue that the behaviour on display is a true representation of society’s callous youth – although how they can say that the art is imitating life in one breath, thus implying that the “wickedness” is already out there, and then claim that it’s the movie which is the corrupting influence, thereby suggesting all was innocent and pure before it came along, is a logical Gordian knot that’s yet to be unravelled), but it deliberately feeds that frenzy as the script never has the nous to deflate or turn around these stereotypes, or offer them up in a light that’s thought-provoking (I’d cite Hard Candy as an example of a recent film that does just this, courts controversy with its subject matter but has a script that’s clever enough to defy expectations and never becomes prurient). There is a seed of recognisable reality here and there to the characters, certainly, but it’s taken to excess and caricature, not unlike the recent Eden Lake which also has the potential to divide audiences in that its depiction of the “evil hoodies” does have some recognisable basis in reality, but at the same time can also be seen as somewhat pandering to the overwrought media hype machine over the perceived menace to society. Eden Lake might just about get a pass, but where Donkey Punch goes wrong, however, is that there are times it genuinely feels as if there’s an almost infantile desire to deliberately exaggerate not for the sake of the plot, but merely to appear “edgy”, to outdo its competitors in the shock stakes.  This creates a sense that it’s trying a little too hard, something which disengages the viewer at a time when they really need to be drawn in, because there are plenty of aspects of the plot leading up to and including the titular act which don’t stand up to close scrutiny, the most clunking of which is the way that the explanation of what the “donkey punch” actually involves is worked into the script, it displays the same jaw dropping lack of smoothness that George Lucas employed with the “What are midichlorians?” dialogue from the rueful Phantom Menace prequel.

If it were some rough exploitation flick from the 70′s, these might be traits that were not only forgiveable but desirable, and naturally controversy can sometimes be its own reward in terms of free publicity – after all, what self-respecting horror fan wouldn’t be enticed to see a film that the above article touts as “a morally bankrupt tale of teenage group sex, violence, drugs and sadism”? – but in such a high gloss production which was bound to capture attention, then it’s a substantial failing. Basically, if you’re going to paint a bullseye on your back then at least have the smarts to duck and weave, especially since horror is already a maligned genre in many eyes, so playing into their hands does it a disservice and will have knock-on effects to productions beyond your own. Afterall, is Ms. Platell not in that very article spitting blood over how it was funded by National Lottery (i.e. public) money and government-backed via the UK Film Council? Clearly Donkey Punch is not the second coming, but it’s not a bad film and nor is it devoid of merit, the fact that it got made at all is something that’s a minor miracle with the state of the UK film industry, and if responses like the one featured in the Daily Mail can stir up enough of a hornet’s nest you can bet that the same institutions would think twice before backing another project in the same genre if they think it might involve any supposed “risk” of media-fuelled public ire, even though the journalism that’s causing the fuss is based solely on something as arbitrary and personal as the author’s cinematic tastes.

Donkeypunch

Speaking of that comment “a morally bankrupt tale of teenage group sex, violence, drugs and sadism”, it’s worth mentioning that this again shows the author of said article’s misreading or deliberate misreporting of certain aspects of the film for the sake of her story having more salacious content – the most important of which is this “morally bankrupt” comment, which she expounds upon further, saying:

“For the sad truth about films like Donkey Punch is that they not only apparently glorify the worst of human behaviour, they also serve to normalise it. They desensitise a society where young people are unsure of the rules any more, where children can be led to think it’s not cool to say ‘No’ to anything not to drugs, to knives, to sex, to violence.”

Steering entirely clear of that whole debate about the media being able to create monsters (although I will say that her point about the young being desensitised and led astray is entirely irrelevant – Donkey Punch was given an 18 Certificate in the UK, minors are forbidden from seeing it, something which she completely skates over in the attempt to link the two points together, and any kids seeing this is a whole other debate, one to do with responsible parenting, but of course by this time the rabid peanut-crunching crowd who are buying into her argument are more than happy to skip such details when they might interfere with their hubris), the sad truth about Ms. Platell’s statement is that it is entirely and wilfully false – Donkey Punch no more glorifies the acts that it shows on screen than Hellraiser glorifies sticking pins in one’s face. Apparently, though she adored Silence of the Lambs and Blair Witch, Amanda must have missed out on Scream, because if she had seen it then she might have had more chance of realising just how formulaic the plot of Donkey Punch is in that it follows the “rules” – in the time-honoured tradition, those who do “bad” things (drugs, sex, booze etc.) more often than not come to a very sticky end. So how can what is essentially a morality tale be “morally bankrupt”? Furthermore, anyone who watches these idiotic characters make one bonehead move after another and sees the predicament they find themselves in as the film progresses and thinks to themselves ”Wow, how glorious! I must go forth immediately and emulate this display of awesomeness!” has to have a slate loose in the first place.

Donkeypunch

In the long run, Donkey Punch is an average film – I’ve touched on most of the flaws, so on the plus side, the acting from the young cast is decent (albeit it does occasionally feel like Hollyoaks meets Dead Calm), the direction from first time director Oliver Blackburn is tight and the pace enjoyably brisk and even affords some suitably tense moments as it reaches its climax, particularly if you can enjoy it for what it is and not question the leaps in logic too much. It helps too if you recognise it for what it is – for although it initially has the traits of a psychological thriller (and occasionally seems to have pretensions of being a black comedy in the Shallow Grave mould), by the final act it devolves into something that’s more familiar and along the lines of a teen slasher flick from the 80′s, which in one sense is somewhat disappointing as it becomes predictable and with a more adept script the psychological twists and turns in the characters and how far they’ll go to save their own necks, coupled with the confined locations, would have been more intriguing, but at the same time is perfectly serviceable. In fact, if you approach it in the manner of a slasher and don’t expect too much, then many of those concerns about logic go away since idiotic teenagers doing dumb things that get them into trouble is a staple of the genre, not to mention T&A and violence, which it also delivers. On these terms, you can do a hell of a lot worse and I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was sufficiently entertained, despite the obvious flaws. If you’re going into it with the idea that you’re going to be blown away by something extreme, then you’re going to be disappointed; if, on the other hand, you’re interested solely for the purposes of tutting and commenting on the depravity of it all, then let’s face it, this film’s not for you…in fact, this genre’s not for you…hell, I’m not sure what is for you, maybe crocheting. So rather than getting worked up and letting your blood pressure rise, why don’t you just walk on by and leave it to us sane people that can differentiate between reality and fiction, m’kay?

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.