Rewind Review: 2010’s ‘Primal’

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Chad: She’s sick.

Dace: She’s eating him!

Chad: She needs help.

Dace: She’s fucking eating him!

Primal is an action packed, bloody as hell “Ozploitation” flick written and directed by Josh Reed.  It’s the kind of movie I refer to as “Bubblegum Horror” but I mean this as a legitimate compliment; Primal is like the Blink 182 of Horror movies.  Truthfully, there’s not much in this film that you haven’t seen before, but it’s got great pacing and a slick presentation.  Primal could be considered goofy when held up against hardcore genre films like Martyrs, for example (like Blink 182 vs. Bad Brains), but sometimes you’re in the mood for a violent good time that won’t necessarily devastate you emotionally.  But this doesn’t mean the film is shallow or sterile; it’s actually very controversial with poignant examinations of gender dynamics amongst a small isolated group under extreme stress.  It’s also a feminist’s nightmare.

Check pout my review after the jump.

Official Synopsis:  When six friends go camping in the beautiful and foreboding outback of Australia, it turns into a hunting trip… and they’re the prey.  One friend goes skinny dipping and awakens something deadly, something evil, something… primal.  Soon friend is turning against friend in director Josh Reed’s witty and scary nightmare that features a sexy cast of rising Australian stars falling under the curse of evil that lies within.

When I say there isn’t anything in Primal we haven’t seen before, I’m hardly exaggerating; it’s an incredibly well-known troupe.  It’s the group of 20-something’s out for a weekend camping trip.  It’s a variation on the Evil Dead, “cabin in the woods” scenario.  It’s reminiscent of The Ruins in that there’s a cultural aspect framing the terror: The action plays out in the jungles surrounding some ancient Aboriginal cave paintings.  But what makes Primal a cut above your garden-variety gore-fest is the fact that it blends a bevy of other Horror movie themes, creating a sort of genre-bending mash up.

In addition to the foreboding forest inhabited by an ancient force, we’ve got bugs that devour plastic, rubber, and other artificial materials.  There’s a gruesome sickness involved that echoes Cabin Fever; the fear of contraction and contamination becomes integral.  The sickness turns a couple members of the group into rabid, toothy shadows of their former selves; it’s like a version of 28 Days/Weeks Later’s Rage Virus that turns folks into the vampire creatures from 30 Days of Night.  But those who succumb to this sickness seem controlled by some outside force that demands violent sacrifice; it’s a Lovecraftian element that kind of materializes when you aren’t paying attention: A mysterious force that dwells beneath a mountain–some sort of tentacle-beast, a freighting Elder-being.  Reed blends these diverse elements nicely into a singular cohesive tale of dread.

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While it’s not uncommon for the sexy victims in these kind of films to be unlikeable by design, you’re be hard pressed to find a more pathetic bunch than the crew in Primal.  It has nothing to do with bad acting; the cast is talented and convincing–their just terrible, awful characters.  The one exception could be Warren (played by Damien Freeleagus) who brings some much needed comic relief in the form of terrible improvised campfire songs.  He’s also a nice guy, a semi-nerd, someone an audience likes to root for.  Too bad he’s the first one offed.

The other male characters in Primal are insufferable.  First there’s Dace (played by Wil Traval), a rugged and book-smart academic who’s interest in studying the cave paintings makes him oblivious to the dangers descending upon members of the group.  Even when someone is feverish, hallucinating, and spitting out her own teeth, Dace suggests taking a wait and see attitude as opposed to ending the expedition and seeking immediate medical attention.  Then there’s Chad (Lindsay Farris); while he’s not as much of a dick as Dace, he’s a total douche-bag idiot.  Jealous, irritable, and vastly impractical in the face of danger, Anja hits the nail on the head when she calls him “completely useless”.  Okay, maybe that’s a bit unfair–he did an okay job as creature-bait.  Intentional or not, the three male characters in Primal represent an absolute condemnation of the Alpha Male mentality that drives them.  Whereas men often rise to the challenge when placed under pressure, these guys do nothing besides contribute to their own mutual annihilation.  Lots of shouting, lots of testosterone–not much cooperation (or intelligence).

The ladies of Primal are all just as problematic–and annoying.  There’s Mel (Krew Boylan): The oversexed insensitive blonde who emasculates her boyfriend by flirting with everyone else.  Then there’s Kris (Rebekah Foord): A smart an unassuming brunette who does little more than whimper throughout.  Lastly, we’ve got “Final Girl” Anja (Zoe Tuckwell-Smith); while she’s obviously the one we’re most empathetic towards, she’s hardly an example of strong/intelligent female power.  We get a back-story that hints at a previous abusive relationship and being imprisoned in a basement (resulting in  a scorching case of claustrophobia).  Sure, it’s not uncommon for our Final Girls to have a semi-tragic backstory; it gives them something to overcome, an experience to draw power from, an added motivation for survival.  It’s not that Anja is unlikeable or weak–she’s mostly just ineffectual as a group leader.  Instead of rallying the troops, she contributes to the overall disintegration of the group dynamic and promotes the “every-man-for himself” mentality that quickly takes hold.

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As for the “Feminist’s Nightmare” aspects of the film: For started, Primal could just as easily have been called The Giant Vagina Cave of Doom.  Other touchy issues include a discussion of the “C’ word and when its use is appropriate: Apparently, it’s not okay when referring to female genitalia, but it IS okay for one woman to use it as an insult against another woman.  Another issue: The sexes react differently to the “infection”: Men growl and grunt but women shriek like annoying banshees.  Next: One woman endures what can only be described as a self-inflicted cesarean abortion.  Finally, most potentially offensive from a Feminist’s perspective:  The way Anja, our Final Girl, get’s fucked.  I don’t want to give too much away, but it makes the tree-rape scene in Evil Dead seem like My Little Pony.

Look, I like this film; I like the blood and action and monster FX.  I don’t mind the fact that it’s a blatantly sexist film, because I’m not taking it too seriously.  It is “Bubblegum Horror” after all.  If you are not easily offended, Primal is an  awesome gore-fest that keeps you invested.  You can sum up the experience of watching Primal in a couple of ways: It’s either an average and sometimes far-fetched “A” movie, or a stellar “B” movie.  It depends on what you’re looking for.

3 out of 5 Skull Heads.

Trailer: HERE

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Zoe Tuckwell-Smith Zoe Tuckwell-Smith
Anja
Krew Boylan Krew Boylan
Mel
Lindsay Farris Lindsay Farris
Chad
Rebekah Foord Rebekah Foord
Kris
Damien Freeleagus Damien Freeleagus
Warren
Wil Traval Wil Traval
Dace

Directed by

Josh Reed

Writing Credits

Nigel Christensen (story) &
Josh Reed (story)
Josh Reed (screenplay)
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About Saucy Josh

I write a blog for intelligent Horror movie aficionados called Blood and Guts for Grown Ups: https://bloodandgutsforgrownups.wordpress.com/ View all posts by Saucy Josh

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