Fantastic Fest 2010: Primal

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Directed by Josh Reed

With Primal, first time film director Josh Reed crafts a fairly by-the-numbers infection movie, but, excepting some annoying stylistic flourishes, executes it commendably well. Primal introduces its cast on the tail end of a road trip into the Australian wilderness, where a group of 20-somethings are hoping to find a series of cave paintings not seen for 120 years so that one of them can write some kind of dissertation. It’s a daunting prospect to make your film’s victims intelligent young folks instead of sex crazed thrill seekers, but Reed and his actors pull it off. Thanks to a flashback, the audience is aware that this whole trip is a terrible idea, and pretty soon the film’s most obnoxious character is infected with some primal force and turned into a blood-thirsty animal huntress.

There are shades of Neil Marshall’s The Descent here, though the film is not nearly as accomplished or restrained.  That is to say, the characters, while realistic and largely avoiding type, are still thin, and the action scenes beat you over the head with quick cuts and sharp, loud music.  The scares, and the gore, are quick to come, and mostly very convincing–but the last act introduces a new element to the primal force that’s infecting the characters which seems unnecessary and also doesn’t look all that convincing.  Still, there’s a quick humor to the writing, and Reed occasionally subverts formula by dispatching of his characters in a surprising order. There are also some scenes that rise above the film’s purported aspirations–one fantastic scene involves the group deciding who will kill a newly infected member and then attempting to do so. That said, the story is often far too projected (you can tell me right now what that claustrophobic girl is going to have to do), but that’s in the nature of this kind of film, and part of the thrill is in the expectation. This is an IFC production, and while it doesn’t convince me that IFC has fully broken out its cable TV origins, Primal is going to pleasantly surprise the channel surfer looking for a quick thrill.

– Emmett Duff

Visit the official website for Fantastic Fest 2010

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