Punch Drunk Love

Donkey Punch
Running time 99 minutes
Written by David Bloom and Oliver Blackburn
Directed by Oliver Blackburn
Starring Julian Morris, Robert Boulter, Sian Breckin, Nichola Burley

Donkey Punch, the newest footnote in the history of pretty-girls-in-peril pictures, is a British slaughterfest in the more restrained tradition of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. Three girls from dreary Leeds vacationing in Mallorca meet four randy London lads crewing for the summer on a yacht. It’s their last weekend before returning to school, the skipper has left them in charge, there’s plenty of party music on board, and the most responsible of the four mates allows the others to talk him into an adventurous moonlight cruise out to sea to sip Champagne and watch the sunset over the Mediterranean. After a lot of sun and a little hashish, the party moves below deck to the bedroom where the stoned girls and oversexed guys shed their hormonal propriety and their clothes. In the heat of passion, it’s time for the old “donkey punch”—a blow to the back of the neck guaranteed to produce an earth-shaking orgasm. (You learn all sorts of useful information at the mercy of today’s imaginative screenwriters.) The whole thing backfires, one girl dies and the rest of the movie follows the survivors as panic and guilt bring out the worst instincts in everybody.

Co-written by David Bloom and Oliver Blackburn, who also directed, Donkey Punch achieves admirable suspense in a claustrophobic setting while it thinks up a variety of marine-style weapons for torturing and killing—anchors, galley knives, ropes, whaling guns and signal fires that can burn a hole through a human body faster than you can yell “S.O.S.” None of the characters are cut and dried; they are all basically credible young 20-somethings, trapped in a dilemma, who make bad choices. Of the seven unknown cast members, I particularly liked Julian Morris, a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, who plays the shyest crew member—a law student who will do anything to save himself from prosecution and protect his future—with an appealing combination of vulnerability and paranoia. But he does not stand alone. The players are all sexy, talented, attractive and, alas, infuriatingly inarticulate young actors in search of better material and stronger direction. I’m no expert at deciphering so many working-class accents (they all sound like Cockney to me), but spitting out whole sentences like porridge and strangling on what’s left, they render a good 50 percent of the dialogue totally incomprehensible, severely marring an often interesting film. As the body count multiplies, it would be helpful if you could hear the various tricks, subplots and double-crosses devised to turn the boys against the girls—and each other—to save their own necks. Unfortunately, Donkey Punch delivers a donkey punch of its own.

rreed@observer.com