Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #213
Number of Views: One
Release Date: 23 September 2010 (USA)
Sub-Genre: Survival Horror
Country of Origin: Australia
Running Time: 81 minutes
Director: Josh Reed
Producers: Nigel Christensen, John Cordukes, Rob Gibson, Josh Reed
Screenplay: Nigel Christensen, Josh Reed
Special Effects: Orlando Norrish, Meg Ashforth
Visual Effects: Doug Bayne
Cinematography: John Biggins
Score: Rob Gibson
Editing: John Reed
Studios: Primal Films, AV Pictures, Known Associates, Talisman Films
Distributors: Umbrella Entertainment, IFC Midnight
Stars: Zoe Tuckwell-Smith, Krew Boylan, Lindsay Farris, Rebekah Foord, Damien Freeleagus, Wil Traval, Mark Saunders, Walangari Karntawarra Jakamarra, Stephen Shanahan, Ch’aska Cuba de Reed, Santiago Cuba de Reed
Suggested Audio Candy
Avicii ft. Aloe Blacc vs. Men at Work “Wake Up Down Under”
It is mind-boggling how much we have evolved as a species over the past 12,000 years or so. Back then the only way of whiling away the hours was to carve drawings onto rock formations and occasionally eat one another’s giblets. Nowadays we have Wii Fit and internet porn to stave off any primitive urges. Yet beneath our exteriors we are all cut from similar cloth and, should we become disillusioned or, worse yet, infected with a deadly water-borne virus then the result is startlingly similar.
Aussie Josh Reed’s debut feature is an unabashed old-school survival horror at its heart and originality isn’t its strong suit. There isn’t a morsel here which hasn’t been explored before on countless other expeditions and instead it relies on this familiarity to bargain with its audience. After a brief pre-historic opening we are placed without any dalliance headlong into a cliché which has been around seemingly since dinosaurs roamed the earth.
We join Slutty Mel (Krew Boylan), bookish Chad (Lyndsay Farris), girl-next-door Kris (Rebekah Foord), joker Warren (Damien Freeleagus), alpha-male Dace (Wil Traval), and thoughtful Anja (Zoe Tuckwell-Smith) as they make their pilgrimage into the deepest jungle via the obligatory transit scene. Primal isn’t overly concerned with spending an eternity getting to where it’s heading and, within five minutes of watching them bicker and banter with one another, we reach our destination.
The group set up sticks at an old archaeological dig site which has remained relatively untouched for aeons with the intention of researching some ancient pictographs and waste no time in engaging in the usual skinny dipping, coitus and generally disrespecting mother earth. In no time at all one of the group is set upon by a gnarly feral bunny and bitten and it appears that it appears we have our infection. Not the case, the rabbit may have teeth like a smashed up grand piano but its bite is non-toxic. Instead, the sickness manifests itself through contact with water a la Cabin Fever and one of the group contracts a fast-spreading ailment which rapidly turns her into a flesh-eating Neanderthal.
By twenty minutes in the adrenaline is in full flow as the water-guzzling offender has spat out her teeth and began to sprout a particularly vicious set of replacements. She also inherits the speed of a panther and a taste for flesh which she procrastinates not in attempting to sate. Cue plenty of shenanigans as her friends attempt to ensnare her before she sinks her new-fangled disheveled gnashers into one of them.
It is here that Primal reveals its hand as the group partake in humorous sparring and a divide starts to appear between them. Though characterization is by no means a pre-requisite, Reed and fellow screenwriter Nigel Christensen flesh them out rather well and, whilst largely hateful, they mostly evoke our empathy. After a botched trap whittles the numbers and a second party member contracts the sickness shit elevates and all bloody hell begins to break loose within their camp.
The campfire is somewhat symbolic, bearing connotations of civilization, it signifies their safe haven and the one place their sanctuary is seemingly assured. If that represents their collective haunch then the dank nearby cave is equally phallic and is the locale where seeds are planted and also a conceptual cognate of a female’s womb to boot. In between that is where the dark dwellers engage in their foreplay, dragging their quarry off before lugging the cavern any surplus body parts thus fending off its tummy grumbles. There are sexual undertones should you choose to heed them and, if not, then a whippet’s pace and some quick-fire splatter should help to sweeten the deal.
Being primal, the hunters aren’t the most eloquent public speakers, possibly due to them having far too many jutting teeth for their faces, and instead they snarl, grunt and shriek whilst looking suitably unapproachable. Like the rage from 28 Days Later there can be no bargaining once contracted and this supplies the group with a new set of posers, most notably being ‘at what part do you drive a sharpened stake through her cranium before she sinks those razor-sharp pearly whites into one of us’. This opens us up for the usual debate and one emasculated boyfriend refuses to see the wood for the trees, convinced his belle can be retrieved from the mental space which she inhabits. Tut tut.
Primal zips along like a ferret in a water park, often defying logic, but frequently entertaining us and daring us to stick around to see what happens next. By the final act it goes all in and the river is far less than encouraging. Remember I mentioned the phallic cave? Well how’s about a computer generated primal schlong which uses its gooey tendrils to restrain you while impregnating you with its pre-historic sperm? One instance of questionable, to say the least, CGI and some over-kinetic camera work and negligible editing peg the whole package back a notch but thankfully it is a fleeting introduction and the final shot is a doozy, incorporating the word cunt, an Aussie favorite, to delightful effect.
Josh Reed gives us 81 minutes of pacy carnage with plenty of light humor and reasonable stock of suspense. Primal is another in a lengthy line of survival horror flicks attempting to emulate Neil Marshall’s The Descent and, all things considered, is one of the most likable. Reed’s approach is as primitive as the title suggests but, come feeding time, I wouldn’t hesitate in coming back for seconds.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10
Grue Factor: 4/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: No amount of antiseptic cream will cope with the abrasions suffered here. Throats are impressively ripped from their casing, bodies torn in half and carried about like security blankets, boulders dropped on faces and self-administered C-sections performed. There is more than enough glugging grue here to whet most appetites.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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