Primal (2009)

AUGUST 26, 2010


Even if I wasn’t doing Horror Movie A Day, I probably would still have had my fill by now of any horror film that begins with a bunch of college age folks in a car driving off to some remote place. Whether they get there and something bad happens, or they break down and something bad happens, for the most part they follow the same structure. So when Primal began, with a car full of college students driving off to some remote place, I began to wonder whether or not I should join my pals for a drink, since none of them stayed to watch it.

Luckily, I opted to stay, and once the generic stuff was through it became a surprisingly enjoyable survival movie, with some prehistoric virus of some sort reducing two of the group to their primal forms (big teeth and all!), with the others forced to find their own primal beast within in order to survive. Since I was expecting some long-living caveman thing or something more supernatural based, it was a nice surprise to see it remain self-contained (they don’t even really explain what it is that has caused them to revert to animals).

I just wish the tone had remained more consistent, as it was sometimes difficult to tell if something was intentionally funny or if it was just stupid horror movie shit. One character in particular, played by Damien Freeleagus, was a complete treasure – nearly everything he said was an intentional and very much earned laugh. He kind of reminded me of Jeremy Sisto in Wrong Turn, where he seemed to have teleported in from another movie entirely, but at the same time was sort of elevating this one. And like Sisto in that film, the writers make the dumb mistake of keeping him out of the action for a good chunk of the film, which is a shame – I definitely wanted to see him go all apeshit and fight along with the others.

Also unfortunate is the use of really terrible CGI during several key moments. I definitely think the movie could have done without the “worm”; even if it WAS good CG (if such a thing exists when it comes to horror movies) I don’t think it would be one of the film’s high points, so the fact that it looks like shit makes it so much worse. There are also some little termite type things that devour everything, which are also rendered and animated quite poorly.

But when they stick to the fighting, man is it fun. They dive and kick at each other like the dudes in 300, and even some occasional CG blood enhancement doesn’t spoil the genuine, practical carnage candy on display. And I know I’ve seen some similar “man reverting to his primal state” movies before, but I can’t remember one where they explored all animal instincts (think carnal. Think doggy style) in the manner it’s used here, where it actually prompts the most peacekeeping member of the group to finally spring into action. It’s a good sight gag, and it actually has some bearing on the plot – bonus points!

I was also tickled by the main girl’s odd hatred of things that begin with the letter C. She gets angry at someone referring to a 3rd party as a “cunt”, and then later gets grossed out when someone mentions a corpse. And she has claustrophobia. I kept hoping for more examples – maybe she won’t eat cookies or considers Chevy Chase to be the Antichrist… why not go for broke? Speaking of 'cunt', the entire discussion exists only to have a great payoff at the end of the film, as the argument is that there are certain times where it’s acceptable to say it, but she couldn’t think of one. Halfway through the film, when I realized where it was going in terms of who would be the last two standing, I realized the entire movie was basically a setup to a crowd-pleasing final line. Hokey as hell, but I kind of liked it. Also, as I am in London, I learned that that particular word is not as socially unacceptable here as it is in the States (it’s one of very very few “bad words” I actually try to refrain from using). So I’m learning culture while I watch horror movies!

Not sure the release plans for the film, but I think it’s worth a look if you enjoy seeing friends gladiator-style fight one another. Think Cabin Fever meets The Ruins meets someone's backyard brawl. With a song about a dead mutant bunny (see the movie to see what I mean!).

What say you?

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