Primal (2010)

As it is screening on Film4 tomorrow night (22 March 2013) in their evening of Monster Movies, here’s my review of Josh Reed’s debut Primal, originally written as part of my coverage of the Film4 FrightFest 2010 for Little White Lies. The film combines biology, bestiality, palaeontology, art history and lexicography to find (in a damp, dark cave) a perfect context for the use of the word ‘cunt’…. Strongly recommended.

Back in 1978, Colin Eggleston’s extraordinary Long Weekend gave nature’s revenge an Australian accent, and now the late director’s son Josh Reed explores the same subgenre with his feature debut Primal. After a brief and bloody prologue set 12,000 years ago, we cut to the present day, as a group of six twentysomethings drive to the outback in search of an ancient Aboriginal wall painting, and find that they have reawakened something even more ancient in its vicinity. Soon one of the hapless urbanites is infected, reverting to her basest impulses of hunger and desire (with a new set of razor-sharp teeth to match) – and as the other five try to work out what to do about her, they must call upon their own primal instincts of survival.

“It’s about context”, declares Anja (Zoe Tuckwell-Smith) in her opening scene in Primal, as she argues with the altogether less reserved Mel (Krew Boylan) about the proper and timely use of the word ‘cunt’. “What context would you be cool with it in?”, replies Mel. It is a sociolinguistic debate that takes in gender politics, notions of dignity and civilisation, not to mention anatomy – but by the end, damaged, victimised Anja, coming with far more baggage than just the pack on her back, will have found her ideal context for the taboo word, as she faces her demons in a deep, dark, damp cave that comes with a decidedly vulval entrance.

There we will bear witness to the most abject perversion of impregnation and parturition seen since Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) – with plenty of bite, fight and flight in the bush to get us there. Falling somewhere between Cabin Fever and The Descent, Reed’s film is a gory, grotesque trip to the savagery within – and yet another in the new wave of Ozploitation films (Wolf Creek, Black Water, Storm Warning, Rogue, Road Train) that seem designed to repel as much as attract any tourists curious about the nation’s picturesque outback. “Fucking nature!” complains group clown Warren (Damien Freeleagus) – and he is right in more ways than one…