Directed by Josh Reed
Take a dash of Cabin Fever, add a garnish of The Ruins and marinade in the Ozploitation ethos of 1978’s little seen The Lost Weekend and you may have just served up Primal, a competent slice of outback horror that received its world premiere during the opening night of this year’s Frightfest film festival. Twelve thousand years ago a frantic Neanderthal attempted to warn his kin of an ancient evil through the medium of cave painting before falling prey to a venerable, unseen power. Flash-forward to the present day and a gaggle of twenty-somethings are embarking on a camping trip, these unfortunate souls unintentionally bivouacking within the perimeter of this malignant entity’s lair, a geography dominated by a claustrophobic warren of weather-distressed caves. The habitat has been corrupted by this devilish entity, the wildlife routed and twisted into an unholy blight, and soon one of the party falls prey to a gruesome disease after an ill-advised bout of midnight skinny-dipping. As her condition deteriorates and as her hunger for flesh intensifies the remaining members of the group find themselves in a desperate battle for survival, a scenario where their civilised conditioning will be stretched and shattered, before long it’s kill or be killed in the isolated Australian outback.
With terrific films you can wallow in overwhelming praise, with bad films you can soak your quill in scathing sarcasm or vitriolic venom, but it’s the competent movies, the solidly adequate that frequently prove the most difficult to dissect. At a compact eighty minutes Primal doesn’t exceed its adroit welcome, its entertaining quips and distressing gore effects seem certain to satiate the gore-hound crowd, whilst there is not a great deal more in the movie to elevate it beyond its genre trappings its reach does not exceed its grasp and one senses that its ambitions are modestly engineered. The ‘final girl’ survivor is evident from the first frames of the movie, a character who is given just enough psychological baggage to engage with the audience and provide a vague sense of narrative closure by traversing and ultimately overcoming a traumatic event earlier in her life, an obstacle that is surpassed during the film’s modest regimen.
Primal’s amusing comic relief arbiter exits stage left earlier than necessary which leaves a gaggle of victims to be picked off sequentially, a misstep that potentially evaporates any connection with the movie but the film musters one genuinely chilling scene which recalls an effective moment from The Blair Witch Project; a captured character is heard shrieking and screaming in the vague distance with two other survivors clinging to each other in nervous dread. In its final moments Primal lurches into some Lovecraft-derived chills, a shift whose source and background is never fully explained, a decision which might count as a fault or coup depending on your personal preferences. The film does have a keen eye for genre tropes, the infected’s fear of fire is manipulated to a tension-building effect and on an artisan level the gore effects, jumps and plot machinations should keep its audience buoyant and engaged. Overall however this antipodean effort is textbook stuff, although fans will admire its slyly telegraphed dialogue flourish that is a contender for perhaps the finest one word coda since 1999’s Eyes Wide Shut.
– John McEntee