Donkey Punch? Whoop-doo!

<strong><em>Donkey Punch</em></strong>

Working as a transcriber for Inside Edition in 2001, I was handed a tape that quite disturbed me. We were never told what was going to be on these Digi-Betas and old school VHS cassettes. It was our job to log them and note anything of interest. The front label simply read "Attias Isla Vista". Having been at my other job all day, I had yet listened to the news. This sounded like some tropical island party tape. Or a deep meditation on the soothing attributes of the off shore wave. At first, it was both those things in equal measure. Photographed in bleak black and white, two nearby college students in the party friendly town of Isla Vista interviewed the local UCSB crowd. They chatted up drunken revelers as they drifted on a cloud of pot smoke towards the destination with the most free beer. Basically, it was a bunch of dumbshit frat daddies and sorority sisters having a good time. There was a genuine joy in the air. And these fellow undergraduates were acting stupid, as if they had not a care in the world. The home movie quality was cute, and it felt like a future embarrassment for a lot of the blind and stumbling participants. More than anything, it seemed like a really bland story for Inside Edition to be covering. I didn't understand why they would be interested in a bunch of doped up party kids.

Then it hit. A succession of loud, dull thuds. A roaring engine came shuttering to a stop. It sounded like a weed whacker hitting an overgrown stump. I don't know if you've ever heard the noise a body makes when it hits the front of a speeding car, but it isn't pleasant. The interviewer quickly turned away from some stoned chick that remained oblivious. His throat made a most unnatural sound. He then ran in the direction of the crashed vehicle, pulling the microphone out of the camcorder. The air was now thick with horrified shrieks. The cameraman hurried to follow, jumping over a curb. His camera landed on the first body, lying in the middle of the street. A man in his twenties. His pants had been knocked passed his knees so that his bare ass stuck up in the air. Both of his feet had been severed at the ankles. A now empty keg cup rolled out of his hand. He was dead. The cameraman, not believing what he was seeing, slowly panned up the street past many more bodies. None of them moving. This fresh trail of the dead lead to a 1991 Saab that sat in the middle of the street, smoke pouring out of its hood. The driver was 18-year-old David Attias, who has since been deemed legally insane. After ruthlessly thrusting his vehicle into five pedestrians, the camera caught him leaping from his car. He started to throw punches and scream, "I am the Angel of Death!" Though, you can't hear it on the tape. A passing jock took him down. It was a gruesome end to a great night full of laughs and friends. Good times quickly turned into a horrible memory for everyone. And that pretty much sums up Donkey Punch. It offers the same kind of visceral, gut dropping experience found hidden within that Inside Edition Digi-beta. And I'm starting to see a trend here.

<strong><em>Donkey Punch</em></strong>

I don't know whatever became of that tape. Or if it was used as evidence in the trial that followed. It must have been. What I do know is that tape had quite a profound effect on everyone that saw it. It was like watching a home movie gone dreadfully off beam. The way the death scene was presented in succession with the partying made for a black piece of unintentional art. A misappropriated snuff film structured by fate. An accidental narrative arose from those images. And I have to wonder if other filmmakers have viewed it in its entirety. David's father is Daniel Attias, a television producer/direct/writer that has been twice nominated for his work behind the camera on Entourage. He has also worked on such prominent series as Lost, Miami Vice, and Beverly Hills, 90210. He is widely known in Hollywood circles, and this story surely resonated through the hallowed halls of Tinseltown. The tape has reportedly been watched and studied by various scholars of cinema. And it could be cited as the turning point for some of the better horror films we've seen in the last couple of years.

In 2006, Eli Roth released his cruel ode to body dismemberment titled Hostel. And it was a feature film that really curbed from the Attias tape. Both in narrative style and aesthetic. Roth captured a gut wrenching twist of pragmatic damage and used it to craft one of this decade's most original horror outings. Like it or hate it, the film offers a sly bit of plot structuring that certainly steals from past films, yet creates something wholly new at the same time. Most critics were quick to dub it "torture porn". While it adheres to that branded formula, that is not where its intended roots lie. Here, four years later, we can look and see that it is something more. And that it kicked off a completely different genre that hasn't really been discussed at length. Roth married neo-realism to the 80s slasher flick, creating a world that could exist in its entirety off screen the same way we see it presented on screen. Hostel is equal parts Eurotrip and Friday the 13th. For all we know, we could be watching a documentary. And in this day and age, an organization like Elite Hunting could certainly exist. The first forty-five minutes is a party. Fun, binge drinking, pot, and jokes. And then it turns into a horrible nightmare. It's a cinematic rendition of the very real VHS tape as shot by those UCSB cable access kids. It's a mirror on our society at this point in time. A showcase for teenage debauchery gone bad. And it wears its metaphors on its sleeve, something the 80s slasher flicks never purposely seemed intent on doing.

<strong><em>Donkey Punch</em></strong>

The Ruins offers nearly the same sort of gut-wrenching testicle punch that Hostel gleefully serves to its audience. Given the neo-realism aspects of its opening moments, this film closely adheres to the snuff-like formula so perfectly captured in both Roth's film and the Attias tape. Those that haven't seen the film in its entirety might think The Ruins is about a talking vine that eats people. Real heady sci-fi stuff usually reserved for musicals about plants from outer space. But the prologue found in The Ruins is as factual as anything seen in The Real Cancun. It may even prove to be more poignant, since its characters are easier to identify with. What starts out as a sightseeing day trip quickly turns into a very pragmatic nightmare. Narratively speaking, it follows the same exact beat structure as Hostel. Now comes Donkey Punch, yet another great cinematic endeavor that owes its righteous path to the horrors witnessed in the Attias tape. It starts out as a party, and ends in realistic pools of unprecedented blood. It's perfect for this age of youtube instant satisfaction and self-aggrandizing. Like it or not, we live in an era where every small event, such as going to the beach or taking the dog for a walk, is reason enough to pull out our camera and take a picture for Facebook. We are fictionalizing our own myths out of mundane minutia.

Donkey Punch is the crowning jewel in this new sub-genre of gore, and it reaches those heights by completely sucking any fantastical elements out of its premise. This is an exacting look at our current spring break culture, which is inhabited by imagination deficient pleasure seekers immune to the shared cruelty of their own outsized egos. They have been weaned on and saturated by one viral snuff image after the next. And they have lost all site of their own morals to become these surly beasts of nature. They do only that which benefits their own out of whack sense of self. What happens in Donkey Punch could be happening as we speak. The actions and reactions of its doomed set of ageless Peter Pan misfits is as real as anything else going on in the world. They hobble along using drugs and sex as their crutch. Never once considering the repercussions of their next move. Masterpiece is a word that gets thrown around a lot these days, and it almost does a disservice to the film in question. Donkey Punch isn't so much a masterpiece as it is a keen observation into the youth culture that is attempting to overrun this country. It's a scary mental note. No one can be trusted.

<strong><em>Donkey Punch</em></strong>

The title alone should clue you into its themes of perverse flippancy. Sex is a tool used to fuel the pleasure barge. The term is a gateway into absurdist objectivity. Nothing is sacred, and no act is too cruel or unusual. The Donkey Punch has become a playground adjective. An elementary level punch line that does little too shock or scare the most timid of Sunday school students. If Fat Albert were alive today, he'd probably get away with shouting its uniqueness across that old Saturday morning junkyard of his. It's the equivalent of a fart joke. And it rests alongside those other colorful terms such as The Dirty Sanchez, the Cleveland Steamer, and the Pink Sock. If you don't know what a Donkey Punch is, I won't ruin it for you. The action causes a cruel chain reaction, and the entire second half of the film's narrative is hinged to this brutal concept.

The cast is made up of mostly unknowns. For what its worth, they could be playing themselves, and we'd never know they difference. They are all quite good at convincing us this is real. It's inches away from being a documentary. And even though they hail from Great Brittan, you probably know at least one of the seven main characters in your own life. The two standouts are Jaime Winstone (as Kim) and Tom Burke (as Bluey), simply because they have strong, attractive, magnetic screen personalities. And they are the intended bad seeds of each gender quadrant, allowing us to see that neither side is innocent. Look deep into their dark eyes, and you may even realize that both are the smartest of the bunch. This high praise isn't meant to slam the other performers in the piece. Nichola Burley (as Tammi) and Julian Morris (as Josh) both bring strong, weighty performances to this rocking boat. These two remain quite understated through a great deal of what transpires over the course of an hour and forty minutes. They are the meekest. And they are the one's that certainly surprise us the most. Watching the film a second and third time, it's Nichola and Julian whose quaint stature resonates throughout the core message of the film.

<strong><em>Donkey Punch</em></strong>

Not to give anything away, but the cusp of the story rests on Nichola Burley's shoulders. Her Tammi sets everything in motion, and it's her ultimate pronouncement that eventually gets the worst of everybody. There comes a moment, late in the film, where Kim yells at her, "This is all your fault!" And I thought, perfect. Director/co-writer Ollie Blackburn is thinking exactly what I am thinking. It is Tammi's fault. If she hadn't been so broken up about her failed relationship, these girls would have never been in this situation to begin with. Sadly, those aren't the words that come out of Kim's mouth. But it is true. None of these characters would be where they end up if it hadn't been for one girl's teary-eyed quest to forget her disposable boyfriend. The cheater is nonexistent in the film, and he is used as an anchor for pushing the threads of this thin plot to unimaginable, yet very sincere levels. Kim and her blonde neophyte partner in crime Lisa (Sian Breckin, who doesn't stand a chance from the get go) take it upon themselves to shake Tammi out of her funk. Vacationing in the Mediterranean, these three girls leave their hotel to go bar hopping in the middle of the afternoon. The opening moments will certainly remind you of The Ruins. The trio meets up with a couple of handsome twenty-something yacht deckhands, they steal a bottle of cheap champagne, and get to know each other while sipping it on the beach. After a few flirtatious looks, they all decide to move the party onto a nearby boat. And the moments are photographed as though a film student proficient in narrow cinematography had been asked to capture his older sister's wake.

Donkey Punch is about making all the wrong decisions and the loss of personal morality. It is like a magnifying glass held up close and cued into our latest generation's own self obsessive ways of behaving. Especially in the face of real tragedy. Life is treated with disdain, and nothing but self preservation is sacred. To say more than "shit gets fucked up on this boat" would be to spoil the tender surprises that await the viewer. It is a cavalcade of poorly thought out moments that topple on top of each other in a precisely fated manor. And the really messed up part about the whole thing is, it could be happening right now. As we speak. Somewhere, out there in the world. And we would never even hear about it, unless, like David Attias, one of those involved had publicly known parents. It's a shame that this is what the world is coming to. Yet it is so fascinating on a visceral level. To enjoy Donkey Punch is to understand its ramifications and place it within this rising new neo-realism horror genre. It is being released as film number four in Magnet's Six-Shooter series. And like the previous three entries, which include Let the Right One in, Special, and Timecrimes, it is certainly one of the best genre offerings opening in the United States this year (it was released July 18th of 2008 in the UK). And it pushes its own particular sub-genre of horror to innovative, unobtainable heights.

Donkey Punch? Whoop-doo!

Eat food! Kill Grandma! Keep your boat party to a roaring minimum! You wankers! Boo!

B. Alan Orange at Movieweb
B. Alan Orange