Two thousand years ago a man works hard to decorate his cave wall with stick figures and hand prints, but a brutally honest art critic sneaks up behind him and tears into the struggling artist’s fragile ego. As well as his throat. One very cool time lapse later and we’re in present day Australia as a group of six friends head into the Outback in search of cave paintings unseen by modern human eyes.
A late night skinny dip session that doesn’t show nearly enough of the naked blonde to the right (pre-fangification, obviously) leads to a spiritual possession of sorts. Her teeth come out only to be replaced with razor-sharp chompers, the agility of a flea, and a taste for human flesh. The remaining humans struggle to survive against their carnivorous friend but soon come to realize there’s something far more dangerous living in the caves above. And it’s hungry for more than just flesh.
Primal takes its time with the setup but once the action starts things look very promising indeed. It’s Demons meets The Ruins as the infection spreads to a second friend and flesh starts parting from the bone. But unfortunately things start going downhill pretty quickly. The film shows shades of The Ruins with more than just its gaggle of young Americans facing off against an ancient evil in an unfriendly landscape. The movies also bear similarity in the way these supposed friends almost immediately turn on each other to save their own hides. It becomes annoying pretty quickly as none of the characters really seem worth caring about or rooting for.
The possessed individuals toss the remainder of their meals into the mouth of the cave where it gets absorbed into the ground presumably to feed the monster within. This part of the story never quite goes anywhere worthwhile though as it culminates in an attempted sexual assault that resembles little more than the fumbled dry humping of a horny fourteen year old CGI creature.
The rest of writer/director Josh Reed’s film is just as tonally off including some odd bits of presumably intentional humor. A kangaroo sits in peace while it eats some tasty grass when Toothy busts into the frame and tackles the furry beast. One of the possessed struggles to gain entry to the SUV, accidentally pops open the trunk, and then pauses for a beat to allow time for a chuckle. Two of the carnivorous friends take time to engage in some doggy style shenanigans but when they’re interrupted they actually take time to pull up their pants and re-button them. Not very bestial behavior there. And while the action isn’t done for laughs it does seem a bit too stylized for a horror film with Zack Snyder-esque fight scenes complete with slowed down and sped up footage.
Finally, and this may be the most damning criticism of all in regard to the film… Neil Miller, who is no fan of horror films, successfully predicted in the first few minutes who the final survivor would be and what exactly they would say to the end enemy. Any screenplay that makes these things so obvious to someone like Miller is pretty much doomed to failure.
Australia has two films representing the nation at this year’s Fantastic Fest, and sadly they both suffer the same fate. Like the Ryan Kwanten-starring Red Hill, Primal is a film that suffers less from a low budget than from the lack of creativity and talent needed to overcome it. The central idea may not be original, but at least it’s presented in an interesting way in the beginning. And that is the least, because after the concept is put forth things fall apart through a poorly written script and an uninteresting execution.
Primal is currently available on-demand as an IFC Midnight release.