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A UK Spy Sends Us A Look At DONKEY PUNCH!

Hey, everyone. ”Moriarty” here. I know a lot of Brits who feel the way this guy does, and I can see why. But I also know there are a lot of British filmmaker who are determined to get their personal visions through the system somehow, and I’m curious to get a look at this latest cult-hit-a-brewin’, DONKEY PUNCH, if only to see if they earn that title...

Hi guys Curiously you don’t seem to have had much coverage, if any, about this movie so I felt duty-bound to let you all know about it. Normally my reviewing skills for you guys have extended to nothing more than simple, potted reviews of the films at London’s FrightFest so I apologise if this single review isn’t as focused and/or is equally as lame. Anyway... I was invited by a friend to a screening of a new British movie called Donkey Punch last night. I’d read a little bit about the movie in various reviews from Sundance ’08 where it played in the Park City at Midnight section of the festival. Their tone had been generally very positive so I was intrigued but, to tell you the truth, not exactly chomping at the bit to see another ‘British’ film. To fully appreciate my frame of mind going in, you need to understand one thing - despite the fact that I am British, I generally hate modern British movies. Either they are full of pompous caricatures (period costume optional), bemoaning the plight of the working class (period costume optional) or painfully attempting to achieve some edgy credibility in endless variations of the gangster genre - which the US does so much better anyway (period costume optional). Of course there are exceptions. Four Weddings and a Funeral was good clean rom-com fun (pompous caricatures). The Full Monty was a passable couple of hours of uplifting nonsense (plight of the working class). And it would be churlish to deny Guy Ritchie’s stylistic achievements in the likes of Lock Stock... and Snatch (gangster genre – you get the point). Then there are the notable attempts at ‘genre’ filmmaking. Neil Marshall’s The Descent, Christopher Smith’s Severance and Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead to name a few. All are good stabs at the horror genre (again, no pun intended) but I always find myself preceding my recommendations for these movies with lines like “It’s really badly acted and could have done without the monsters but...” (The Descent) or “It’s really silly and has got no plot to speak of but...” (Severance) or “It’s got a really lame final act but...” (Shaun of the Dead). In fact the only recent British film I can really say that I unreservedly love is Hot Fuzz. It takes a little long to get going but... uh, maybe I spoke to soon. Anyway you get the idea. British movies in general are, at best, deeply flawed and, more often than not, completely unwatchable. In my book a flawed movie is a flawed movie and shouldn’t be given a break because it’s from a little island somewhere in Europe. There are often bigger budgets here than there are for some exceptional independent American films so that’s not an excuse either. For fuck’s sake we used to have a thriving film industry that produced some truly great movies. Perhaps if we focus on storytelling rather than trying to mimic what our American cousins produce (or what they expect us to produce) then we might once again be a force to be reckoned with on the world stage of cinema. So, imagine my surprise as the opening logos of the movie reveal it to be part funded by the UK Film Council. Hang on a second, I’m thinking, don’t these guys generally fund shit like Becoming Jane and Miss Potter? Is this going to be a bunch of 18th century teenagers squabbling on a boat about inappropriate manners? Well, in a word, no. In two words, fuck no! I don’t know how they did it but the guys at Warp X (the production company) somehow managed to persuade the UKFC to part with a few quid to make a really excellent, intense, balls-to-the-wall thriller with not a corset or bonnet in sight. Quite the opposite, in fact. For about 10 minutes, in what has got to be one of the bravest and boldest sex scenes in recent memory, there are no costumes to be found, period (no pun intended). And that’s before we even start talking about the impressively violent set pieces... STOP! REWIND THAT! (Sorry, couldn’t resist a little tribute to the awesomely awful Vantage Point which went straight to the top of my ‘Bad Movies We Love’ list this weekend) Let’s start at the beginning... Donkey Punch tells the story of three girls from Leeds (a city in the North of England) who go on holiday to Spain so that the more fragile of the three can escape the fallout of a failed relationship. One night they meet four guys who take them back to the yacht they’re crewing for a hedonistic night filled with drugs and sex, which all goes according to plan until one of the guys tries out the titular ‘donkey punch’ that they’ve all been discussing, leaving one of their number without a pulse and the rest of them with a very big problem. And so the paranoia begins, as allegiances are formed and deformed, until more than one them lose a few pints of blood. And when I say blood... Let’s just say that, despite its quality rising several rungs above the average genre thriller, the core audience won’t be disappointed. To be more specific would spoil the fun of this twisted little tale. All I will say is that all the characters act in a way that you don’t initially expect them to, ultimately revealing their true nature in a totally believable way. Credit must go to both the actors - an excellent ensemble of relative unknowns featuring exceptional performances from Nichola Burley and Julian Morris in particular - and the razor-sharp script by director Oliver Blackburn and his co-writer David Bloom. These young adults actually talk like young adults (a rare thing indeed in movies) and, despite the extreme lengths that some characters go to, the pic never feels as contrived or unbelievable as lesser movies in this genre such as Dead Calm or Shallow Grave (yes, you did read correctly, I said lesser movies). As if that weren’t enough, a review of this movie would not be complete without pointing out the exceptional cinematography by Nanu Segal - the eerie calm of the repeated, haunting image of the isolated boat lit up at night contrasted with the knowledge of what’s going on inside makes you dread returning to its interior - and the beautiful, haunting score by François-Eudes Chanfrault which recalls the era of Tangerine Dream and Vangelis where the score was as much of a character as the leads. Even the sourced music is awesome, featuring - to great effect - tracks by the likes of M83 and Peter, Bjorn & John. But it’s crown jewel is it’s young director, Oliver Blackburn. Nearly 24 hours after seeing the movie I am still reeling from the knowledge that this is his debut feature. Blackburn has the deftness and effortlessness of touch of a master of the genre. Blending several subtle elements and themes into a seamlessly shifting, always satisfying whole, delivering a ferocious, guttural punch to the face of British cinema (got to stop with those puns). Mark my words; in years to come Blackburn will be mentioned in the same breath as Carpenter and Polanski. His vision is that assured. The last twelve months are proving to be a defining era in European genre cinema - with the likes of Roar Uthaug’s awesome Norwegian slasher Cold Prey, Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury’s Inside and Juan Antonio Bayona’s beautiful and terrifying The Orphanage already standing proud. Now we can add a British movie to that list. Donkey Punch is a ferociously slick, smart and superbly directed thriller that has the rare intelligence to keep its plot simple and is all the more amazing for it. It’s one to look out for on both sides of the pond when it’s released later in the year and marks the debut of a real talent in Blackburn. So, yes, I think I might have found the only modern British movie that I can recommend without reservation. A movie that focuses so clearly on its story, is so fucking good and so lacking in pretension that you actually forget it’s a ‘British’ movie. Which is pretty much the highest compliment I could give a film. Now if only more people made movies like this in Britain we might actually have a film industry that we can be proud of again. Until next time... Major Calm
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