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Ben Austwick [Film Festival 08.30.10] Australia movie review horror

Year: 2009
Directors: Josh Reed
Writers: Josh Reed & Nigel Christensen
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: Ben Austwick
Rating: 7.5 out of 10

One of the problems with contemporary horror is the seemingly endless parade of teenagers going camping in the woods, and the pedestrian horrors they face therein. There are of course some true greats in this genre but it produces diminishing returns as time goes on, with last year's Frightfest showcasing some particularly dismal examples. Expectations were low then for Primal, but a bit of imagination, a lot of wit and a cavalier attitude to genre conventions make it a surprisingly entertaining film.

Primal's teens are an unpromising assortment of clichés - cowardly boy, gung-ho boy, cheeky boy, annoying girl, sensible girl and nondescript girl - embarking on a trip deep into the Australian bush to see some prehistoric rock paintings for a college project. The forest setting is beautiful and positively vibrates with colour, setting the tone for a brightly-coloured film than verges on the neon and psychedelic at times, a welcome change from horror cinema's default dreary palette. The dialogue is a bit more zippy than usual as well as the campers bed down for the night, and one of the girls takes an ill-advised dip in a nearby billabong that sets the horror rolling.

It's probably Primal's main flaw that it takes a bit too much inspiration from Eli Roth's modern classic Cabin Fever from here on, the mysterious infection that incapacitates the girl echoing, though not all-out copying, the haemorrhagic fever that knocks out his bunch of teenage campers. The disease starts with delirium ("Who the f**k paints their walls orange?" a later victim moans is he rolls around on the forest floor hallucinating), moves into some very Cabin Fever tooth loss and gum bleeding before entering a final psychopath stage, giving its victims blood lust, inhuman strength and big pointy teeth with which to terrorise their uninfected companions.

It's a pretty straightforward set-up, albeit handled better than normal with an unusual amount of tension, and follows a familiar route right up until the frankly bizarre ending. Where you'd expect the last of the infected to be finished off, no doubt with a brief rise-from-the-dead comeback, before the last survivor emerges from the forest to wave down a passing motorist, instead we get a weird finale of psychosexual body horror that at first makes no sense at all, but with a bit of thought fits neatly into the grand Lovecraftian tale we have unwittingly been watching all along. It's a risky but clever bit of scripting that turns an above-average genre film into something altogether more interesting, giving Primal an edge any forthcoming teens-in-the-woods horror films will struggle to match.

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