Horror. Worldview. Faith.

Primal – Review

Primal – Review

Jun 23, 2011

reviewed by Skot
directed by Josh Reed, 2010

Go into the remote wilderness with a handful of happy-go-lucky friends to study prehistoric rock paintings.  Become contaminated in a pond and metamorphose into a frenzied omnivore with a bad case of piranha mouth.  Eat your friends or die trying.  That is Primal, a 2010 Australian picture written and directed by Josh Reed.

Let me perfectly clear.  This is not a multi-layered thinky art film.  But even the flimsiest horror movies suggest certain grander topics.  And for me, that’s why the genre is so terribly interesting.

For instance, what does the title mean?  I don’t want to read too much between the lines, but the word, Primal, seems to suggest that the transformation the characters undergo takes them back to an earlier form of humanoid, like evolution in reverse.

This back in time trajectory is foreshadowed by the opening scene of Mr. Caveman drawing his pictographs (a warning?) on the rock wall.  The journey to a state before human beings domesticated their primal urges is further prefigured by the Range Rover trek of our adventurers into the Aussie jungle.  In literature and film, the wilderness represents untamed dangerous forces.  Consider the Bible itself.  In Mark’s Gospel, it says, “At once the Spirit sent [Jesus] out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him (Mark 1:12,13).” Why the zoological observation about being with the wild animals?  It sets a mood.  When you leave civilization, monsters will get you and bad things will happen.

Physical transformation is a major element for body horror.  We want to know what a human being really is.  What are the limits of humanity?  Where are the boundaries and what happens when they are crossed?  The first person to transform is Mel.  When the others decide that she may have to be put down, her boyfriend is reticent to harm her.  But the clear thinking Last Girl, Anja, tells him repeatedly, “That’s not Mel anymore.”

With Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, we get to see the beast that lives within.  Primal does something similar.  It says that underneath the constraints of our civilized veneer, we are all ravenous maniacs, barely more than animals.

You may think you’ve seen this movie a thousand times before, but Reed does have a few surprises.  At first blush a garden-variety cannibal zombie flick, it develops shades of Lovecraftian cosmic horror.  Sadly, this is a weakness for the movie instead of a strength.

Don’t scrutinize it too long.  The holes in the plot are large enough to walk a camel through.  What is the deal with the pond and what causes the happy campers to transform?  Is it a virus?  Something supernatural?  Why the impregnation?  How does the uber-monster factor in?  I think it just tries to do too much in the last half hour.  Primal is not a great film, but it’s not bad.  It might even be better than I thought.

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