A British Thriller Under-Delivers Punch-Drunk Love

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Check the premise: four Brit crewmates meet three vacationing lasses at a cantina in Spanish paradise and soon lure them — with the prospect of a romantic sunset (hook) and requisite spirits (sinker) — to a palatial yacht. During the hurly-burly courtship, a line from one of the go-wild-and-go-home girls hangs in front of our faces like a speedometer: “This is our last weekend together!” Alas, these co-eds are surely hurtling towards an unfortunate end when cliches like these are getting tossed about.

Of course, much of Donkey Punch’s oh-no portent owes to the sadistic titular act. The British production is like There Will Be Blood or Kill Bill in that measure: it’s what surrounds the self-stated violence that makes it worth your hard-earned dime, a spotlight as focused on craft as climax. But whereas those films supplied full-blooded characters, Olly Blackburn’s “character-driven” thriller deals with cut-out types of today’s wild things — with a huff of logic, they blow away. The actors aren’t awful (many have Shakespeare creds), but their roles are hard to digest. The most memorable, Bluey (Tom Burke), will probably be recalled simply as the drug-dealing, snarl-lipped bloke who slings one-liners like, “you’re gonna let your kid brother chew your grass,” referencing a fraternal tête-à-tête for booty.

An award-winning music video and commercials helmer, Blackburn does imbue the road to perversion (and paranoia) with a semblance of tension. After climbing aboard the sea-bound boat, Lisa (Sian Breckin), Kim (Jaime Winstone), and the reluctant Tammi (Nichola Burley) take E with this bro-gade of one-track minds. The music bursts on-screen, flitting between yesterday’s gold-hit tracks with the speed of a hummingbird between ripe nectar. Strangely, no snippets of “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” pop up.

The party’s drug-addled, awkward chitchat soon touches upon sex and Bluey brings up the urban-legendary donkey punch. Josh the “Innocent” (Julian Morris), younger brother of Sean the “Sensitive” (Robert Boulter), claims to have administered the disturbing blow that induces an “involuntary spasm.” When pressed for details, a red-faced Josh drops his macho façade — he’s forgotten himself in the ship’s testy, every-man-for-himself dynamic. But the prurient reference has also touched a nerve in both Lisa and Kim, who thereupon take Bluey and the vessel’s skipper Marcus (Jay Taylor) below for a little four-play. His curiosity aroused, Josh tags along as Sean and Tammi, the two without “SCORE” ticker-taping across their cerebellum, tally a few moral points by sharing back stories of cheating exes. They end up just making out.

Down below, meanwhile, the old in-out, in-out has escalated into an all-out orgy with Josh assuming a hands-on role. Bluey, ever the bully, whips out a video camera and pressures Josh into performing the fated punch. This ultra violence transforms the male wet dream into a what-have-we-done crime scene: Lisa’s neck has been snapped. The filmed evidence now becomes the most sought-after sex tape since Paris Hilton’s star-making turn.

Up to this pivot, Blackburn’s plot has cycled through the customary, lame-duck preparation for its genre: we’re familiar with the checklist (sex, some lies, drugs, and videotape) that precedes the auguring of cutthroat action. After an all-male meeting, the mates settle on the “drunk accident” alibi: Lisa, intoxicated, fell overboard. Obviously, the girls object. Thus begins the final reel’s do-the-right-thing blame game that eventually turns into a battle royale for survival. Without a dam for reason, the at-sea claustrophobia and the victor-or-victim (read: do-or-die) jockeying surge to the foreground. Even the music transitions: no longer log jammed with top-40 smashes, the instrumental sounds arpeggiate to add to the hysteria.

As Donkey Punch retreats from light to dark (physically and psychologically), it becomes better because it becomes more preposterous. What’s the Aesopian moral among these animalistic beings? Does donkey punching, in fact, cause more trouble than pleasure? Is this film the answer to Anna’s mysterious disappearance in Antonioni’s L’avventura ? In the end, the fourth release from Magnet’s Six Shooter Series (which also put out the stellar Swedish import Let the Right One In) is a light, fluked-up piece of work — everything so unlikely as to be amusing. That’s its draw and detriment. Suspend belief and you’ll have an entertaining, if periodically exasperating, dose of nonsense; don’t and you’ll come down with a simulated case of C-movie sickness.