MPI // 2009 // 84 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // January 25th, 2011
"Will make you glad you stayed home."
In America, there are very few places where you can wander in a single direction for more than a few days without finding signs of human habitation. This is why I'm somewhat worried by huge countries that cram most of their human populations into a much smaller area along the border and/or coast (I'm looking at you, Canada). I mean I hear Australia is beautiful and all, but when I look at the map I see Sydney, Perth, Melbourne, Death Trap. Of course if you look at the map you might see "Outback" instead of "Death Trap," but I say "tomato/tomahto." No, I've never been there first-hand to see the dangers myself, but I can tell from movie after movie that the land is harsh and unforgiving. That was before I watched Primal, which shows that in addition to all the usual dangers like animals and lack of food, we also have to worry about infections from beyond history taking over our bodies. Primal might not win any awards from the tourism board in Australia, but for fright fans it delivers a clever twist on the old "lost in the woods" story.
You've heard this one before: a group of friends go off into the wilds and get more than they bargained for. This time the friends are off in the wilds of Australia looking for some cave paintings that apparently haven't been seen in over a century. One of them decides to go skinny dipping and gets into the leeches. A few hours later she sprouts some funny teeth and has a taste for flesh. Her friends have to figure out how to save her and get the heck out of there. Of course it's not going to be easy with everyone going Primal.
On paper, Primal looks like nothing new. Another film about a bunch of pretty young actors going into the woods to be slaughtered. Apparently the filmmakers noticed that, too, so they decided to focus on what they could to make their version stand out from the pack. Their first asset is the Australian setting. There some good establishing shots of the landscape, and the idea of the previously unknown cave paintings is a much better hook than simply having people go into the woods to get drunk. There are also a few opportunities for jokes involving the local animals, especially a kangaroo gag I won't spoil.
Speaking of violence, Primal is chock full of the good stuff. There are a number of good jump scares, and, more importantly, the violence is often hand to hand and well-coordinated. Time and attention was paid to making the encounters look good. There might be a bit too much reliance on wires and/or digital effects, but considering how rarely the genre uses such modern conveniences for fights I'd give the flick a pass. This film also made me realize how little attention most low-budget films pay to audio. A lot of work was put into making the sounds of Primal have impact. Lots of good squishy noise and nice thumps when people attack.
I also give the film points for pacing. The open is amiable, letting the landscape and characters unfold, but once the violence starts it pretty much pours on until the credits roll. There's no room for catching a breath, and the film is better for it. There are also no extraneous characters; we meet our pack in the car at the beginning and that's who we stick with. No crazy mountain man comes along to tell the story of the hills, and no lame attempts at having officials come to the rescue distract us from the main characters.
On DVD Primal looks pretty good. Colors during the daytime scenes are bright and saturated, and during the night shots the image stays dark and surprisingly free of noise and artefacting. The 5.1 audio is strong as well, with a good dynamic range and easily audible dialogue.
The disc, however, is not perfect. The film's trailer is the only extra to speak of. This is unfortunate considering how strong the film is overall, and a featurette on the scenery would be wonderful. Input from first-time feature director Josh Reed would also be a bonus worth having. The film itself is not perfect, either. The film's relentless pace leaves it with no place to go but down as the third act comes to a close. The lack of serious explanation which initially helped get the film goes hurts a little as the film keeps trying to end, throwing more and more at the survivors until the credits roll without a really satisfying conclusion.
For fans of backwoods horror, Primal offers some satisfying thrills and chills, with enough clever violence and quick pacing to hold interest for its 90 minutes. The total lack of extras makes it hard to recommend for anything other than a rental, though.
Although the court is disappointed in the lack of extras on this disc, Primal is not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 84 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated R