Directed by: Josh Reed
Horror, 80 min
Distributed by: Njuta Films
It would seem like there’s a wave of interesting genre directors finding a way though the static from down under. Greg McLean’s Wolf Creek 2005, still packs something of a punch, Andrew Trauki’s The Reef 2010 is one of the best shark attack flicks in decades, and Brian Trenchard Smith is at least still making movies. Josh Reed’s Primal starts off pretty slow, but in the flip of a switch it becomes an aggressive competitor for global attention. And you should pay attention because this is quite thrilling ride that goes from outback Australia to the heart of fear via a little detour of Lovecraftian mythos!
A quickfix for Primal goes something like this: An unlikely bunch of friends follow anthropology student Dace [Wil Traval] out to the bush to look for some old cave paintings he needs to study for his doctorate thesis. The fastest way to the paintings is though a system of labyrinth like caves. Finding no empathy from Mel [Krew Boylan] who tells her to ”Get over it, it’s only a fucking cave!” Anja [Zoe Tuckwell-Smith] drives round the mountain meeting the rest of the gang on the other side. On their first night at their camp, Mel develops a fever and pretty soon she’s turns into a primal beast with fangs and attacks the rest of the group. But despite being at the top of the food chain, even Mel fears what dwells in the caves, something that obviously has been there long before the ancient aboriginal paintings that drew them to the location in the first place.
Several things made this movie click with me, and not only Warren’s [Damien Freeleagus] awesomely cool RIP LUX t-shirt! The pre-title sequence set’s two important factors. The cave painting origin – which also tells a tale of the cave and gives a warning – and furthermore establishes the genre – horror and sets the threat – the monster if you will… or at least what we will believe to be the monster for the next eighty minutes.
Following the credits, introductions are dealt with and after rapidly establishing stereotypes; I notice that several roles are tossed around to what is common practice. Here the jock has been replaced with Mel who acts as the dominant, sexually aggressive character of the group usually reserved for the horny sports guy. Already in the first scene she uses foul language in the shape of the “C-word” to alienate her from the two other females of the group, accessory cast member Kris [Rebekka Foord] and the leading lady Anja. It may seem as a small silly scene, but it’s going to be important in the final scene, which I’ll return to later on. Male characters really don’t have much importance, strength or stamina in Primal, which was a pretty fun angle to take. All men are mere puppets to the women in one-way or another.
After the introductions and arrival at the location, it’s established that Anja suffers from claustrophobia. There’s also an indication of a back-story where she’s been captive in an ex-boyfriends basement. Also in the dialogue there’s a second indicator of that strong female presence as Mel totally disses Anja and her claustrophobia despite Anja fainting and vomiting... Kris holds back Anja's hair and comforts her, but it’s pretty obvious from that moment on that everything is going lead up to Anja being in that small tight damp cave in the final fight.
And that final fight… well I found it to be somewhat of a fresh approach. Instead of going about it the way you would predict it would – that is rush to the end, fight the monster – use the cave in some way, defeat the monster and end credits – Primal takes something of an outlandish detour during the final act. Early on in her post-transformation, it is apparent that Mel, despite her animal state, is terrified of something within the cave. Small indicators in the shape of tentacles seeping forth from cracks and crevices in the cave establish a second threat, and if not even the “monster-beasts’” dare enter within, how the hell is Anja going to make it through. Letting the audience in on the threat before the character is a brilliant device and which made Alfred Hitchcock a household name all those years back. Pre Psycho 1960, he frequently presented the treat then the character in peril. He made Sabotage twice with the same device – Bomb under the desk, clock is ticking, protagonist walks into office knowing fuck all about the bomb under the desk… but we do. And as the audience we bite our nails in terror as the protagonist faces the unknown threat. This is the same device as Primal and instead of a bomb under a table, there’s that Lovecraftian being within the rock. I’m not going to say anymore, but damn did that spring out of nowhere, pack a real shocking vibe, and definitely lifted the movie in my eyes. I love movies which I think are predictable flip things around and come up with a fresh ideas or even unexpected “Elder Being” monsters impregnating women and pounding protagonists to the ground…
To wrap it all up, lets return to that little sequence in the opening of the movie where Mel uses the “C-word” and everyone more or less freaks out at how verbally aggressive she is. Well, the last word of the movie is the “C-word”, and in the way it’s used it refers to character development. The speaker has ventured from a pretty plain character with a phobia of tight spaces and passive actor to a bold, aggressive survivor who metaphorically takes the power of Mel in her last action and comment. It’s a great little arc and use of detail that ties it all together neatly. But the journey here wasn’t one that came in an instant like it does in many other generic horror flicks. Nah, this was a painful trip and there are a lot of obstacles to pass over before the Anja actually becomes the final girl. There’s several times when she attempts to take command and dominate, but fails, or can’t because it would be morally wrong – the movie does at times pose questions like “Could you kill a friend if it wasn’t your friend anymore?” and this is what creates dimension in the characters confronted with these questions. It is also what makes Primal stand out amongst the crowd and lift it’s head up above stereotypical actions and behaviour… and the tentacles of course.
A great looking movie – shot by John Biggin’s who previously shot Trauki’s Croc-shocker Black Water 2007, Primal is a genuinely scary and original fright fest, blending Darwinian survival with Lovecraftian elements and gives the old gender stereotypes a run for their money.
Dolby Digital Stereo 5.1. English dialogue, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Finnish subtitles are optional.