Toronto After Dark: DONKEY PUNCH (Short) Review

Three girls, four guys, lots of drugs and a big expensive boat in the Mediterranean Sea. A recipe for holiday disaster? You bet. Perhaps the ultimate warning on unconventional sex-acts, the titular Donkey Punch sets the stage for a battle of the sexes fraught with equal parts sex and violence from both genders. Oliver Blackburn mixes sun drenched cinematography with the dark corners of the human psyche under various forms of strain. This is not the over-the-top torture of Haute Tension or Hostel as the poster, trailer and overall marketing of the film suggest. The film lives by the more selfish (and audience relatable) pressure of how does each one try to get out of an untenable self-inflicted mess intact and free. There are some bloody moments in the picture, and enough sexuality (explicit and implied) to slap an NC-17 rating on in the United States (and make it unreleasable in Japan of all places) but ultimately it is a tale of how to trust people you do not really know in a tough situation.

The film is strongest when essaying the compendium of betrayals within the confined space of it single set, a luxury yacht. Combine that with the mix of eroticism and bad behavior and we are in similar territory to Knife in the Water and Dead Calm. Yet the similarity to other classic 'boating thrillers' is the films biggest flaw. Despite avoiding the typical slasher/psychopath conventional villain (a bit of a stumble in Philip Noyce's film), it still is pretty easy to see where things are going. Thus, what remains are only the pleasures of solid acting and technical craftsmanship to carry one along to the inevitable. That and dissecting who is making the poorer common-sense choices here, the boys or the girls. There are a couple of doozies on both sides of the X-Y divide, including the titular sex move and one involving a small outboard motor. Hopefully for most folks their twenties will not be a time spent doing incredibly risky things (not so much the drugs, sex and alcohol...but rather the drug, sex and alcohol with people you don't even remotely know in the middle of nowhere) in the hopes that some fun might drop out.

Nevertheless, Donkey Punch is a great calling card film that makes the most of its modest budget, single location and its pretty game cast. While not without some appeal (perhaps too smart for the torture porn crowd and too predictable for those who love this kind of thriller), I expect Blackburn and his actors (one of whom is Ray Winstone's daughter) will go on to bigger and better things in the near future.

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