Primal (2010)

Primal is better than expected. Well, better than I expected it to be anyway. It’s vicious, witty, fast paced and enjoyable throughout and deserves to be seen by a wider audience. The acting isn’t always great and there’s a section towards the end that feels as though it’s come directly from SyFy original movie, CGI Hell but despite those flaws, it’s still an entertaining ride.

Six friends journey to the middle of the Australian outback on an anthropology trip/camping getaway. They’re there to see and study an ancient and mysterious cave painting but encounter something much more sinister instead.

One of the group; bubbly, slutty blonde Mel takes a dip in the inviting waters by their camp. Coming out covered in leeches, she panics, then comes over feeling a little under the weather. During the night, Mel’s condition starts to worsen and she displays worrying symptoms. Dismissing it as some kind of fever, the others try to enjoy their time away but when Mel’s illness causes her personality to change, turning her primal and causing her to violently attack her friends, it becomes a deadly game of kill or be killed.

So far, so predictable, right? Well, yes. Primal doesn’t score a great many points for originality with its take on infection, contagion and brutal murder but it makes up for that with some genuinely well-rounded characters and some snappy dialogue, bursting with typically Australian wry humour.

The characters, as well rounded as they might be, are not always a likable bunch. In fact, some of them are downright loathsome, but it’s still refreshing to see a group of people on screen who don’t conform to all the bland horror movie stereotypes and it’s not always easy to guess who might survive the ordeal, with some characters making the usual ‘bad horror movie decisions’ but others displaying character complexities and developments that you wouldn’t necessarily expect from the genre, and certainly not from a film of this calibre.

It’s also admirable that director Josh Reed has managed to make the reasonably small budget stretch as far as he has. Despite some hokey computer imagery in the final third, the film never looks cheap and there are certain parts that look positively slick, particularly the slowed down ‘attack’ scenes. There’s also a lot to appeal to the gore hounds among us, from teeth falling out in full-on 80’s inspired splatter-esque glory, to folks having large, grisly chunks chewed out of them.

At the end of the day, regardless of its imperfections, it’s easy to see why Primal won FrightFest’s audience award in 2010. It’s gleefully blood-soaked, knowingly humorous, well acted and has a polished script at its centre. Primal is not without its inadequacies and is full of nods to other, better movies that are brazen enough to make you feel like you’ve experienced déjà vu but if you have an hour and a half to kill, it’s also a thoroughly thrilling distraction that’s full of charm and does the under-rated Ozploitation movement proud.

Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

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