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March 2011

Primal

cast: Zoe Tuckwell-Smith, Kew Boylon, Lindsay Farris, Rebekah Foord, and Damien Freeleagus

director: Josh Reed

85 minutes (18) 2010
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Kaleidoscope DVD Region 2

RATING: 7/10
review by Mark West

Primal

The film begins with a short sequence, set 12,000 years ago, showing an aborigine creating a painting on a rock formation, before being messily killed by something we don't quite see. In the present day, we see a 4x4 full of twenty-something friends, who are heading out into the outback to study said paintings, which haven't been seen for 120 years. Group leader Dace (Wil Traval) hopes to make his reputation with his studies, whilst Anja (Zoe Tuckwell-Smith) used to have family who lived on the land and died mysteriously.

Along for the ride are Chad (Lindsay Farris), and his girlfriend Mel (Krew Boylon), Dace's girlfriend Kris (Rebekah Foord), and Warren (Damien Freeleagus). They find the mountain but, rather than drive around, attempt to take a short cut through tunnels, although Anja is claustrophobic and can't do it. Making camp, the group goes to see the paintings (where they encounter a mutant rabbit with huge, sharp teeth) before setting up camp for the night. Mel goes skinny-dipping and gets attacked by leeches, leaving Anja and Warren talking around the fire. It turns out that she was brutalised by an ex-boyfriend, who kept her locked in a basement for a week, explaining her claustrophobia (the incident is never mentioned again). Mel's gets a fever and her condition quickly deteriorates until her teeth fall out, she grows fangs like the mutant rabbit, and escapes. Trapped, the group decide they must capture her but Mel is under the thrall of something that resides in the tunnels.

This works well, as a tense and claustrophobic little chiller, off-setting the glorious panorama of the Australian outback with the small clearing and tunnel area that the characters find themselves in. The tension begins to build after the leech attack (which is well handled) and doesn't really let up to the end, as the characters go through believable reactions to the circumstances and the growing realisation that this isn't going to end well for any of them. The film is so well constructed that even when not much is happening on screen - the drawing straws scene, for example - you can still feel that we're not dawdling, that a good pace is being maintained.

The actors all acquit themselves well even when, such as with Kris, they have relatively little to do. Their dialogue rings true and there seems to be a genuine bond amongst them, which is good to see. The direction backs this up, keeping relatively steady for conversation and then hitting the manic-energy button when the action kicks in (Reed also edited and thankfully gets over his apparent jump-cut obsession quite quickly). Mel, and what happens to her, takes up a large part of the film and, whilst nothing is particularly explained - what is it with the kangaroo legs or Warren's lower half? - it doesn't really affect the viewing. It makes sense because it's happening, not because you precisely understand why.

Of the effects work, the prosthetic make-up is effective and gruesome - various bites, a windpipe bitten out and Mel's transformation - but sadly, the same can't be said for the CGI. Whether it be the poorly-matched CGI matte of the mountain (it's a completely different colour to the surroundings) or the fact that certain shots are clearly against green-screen (nothing that you can see seems to fit together properly), it's enough to pull you out of the film for a moment. That gets worse at the climax when you finally see the thing in the cave, which is so poorly conceived and executed, I thought I was watching a test shot made on a Commodore 64.

That niggle aside (which, depending on your tolerance of poor CGI could be big or small), Primal is a cracking little film, with believable characters and a great pace that really builds tension and suspense. I'd recommend it.



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