Sometimes a horror movie rental can be summed up with one pithy thought – “good enough.”
“Primal,” an Aussie import from writer/director Josh Reed available now on DVD, falls squarely in this camp. It’s neither embarrassing nor innovative. And it checks off the genre requirements with alacrity – gore, mutations and characters you don’t mind meeting an untimely end.
The film feels stitched together from previous shock outings, but it’s not so derivative as to be unnerving. Reed brings enough craft to the project to make one suspect he’s got bigger, and nastier, things still up his sleeve.
A prologue featuring a cave painter’s final brush strokes sets an eerie tone for what’s to come. “Primal” focuses on six friends trying to find cave paintings that haven’t been seen in years, maybe centuries. Trouble begins when the sextet’s Debbie Downer, played by Zoe Tuckwell-Smith, scratches herself while the group takes a cavernous short cut.
A drop of her blood hits the ground and awakens something sinister. The ancient evil that smited the poor cave painter returns, and several members of the small expedition party begin exhibiting chilling behavior – and nasty dental work.
What follows is a spin on “Cabin Fever” marinated in “The Ruins” with the killer rabbit from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” thrown in for good measure. You can feel the movie tugging the audience in several directions at once, including elements of wink-wink camp and commentary on man’s primal nature. The latter could have really set the film apart from its bloody peers, but Reed is too busy putting the cast in mortal danger at every turn.
The shocks occasionally hit home, and for all its flaws it’s more watchable than, say, the recent “Nightmare on Elm Street” reboot. What’s missing are any engaging characters to root on. None of the six actors here make a vivid impression, so when they begin bickering it’s merely a distraction from the genre staples.
“Primal” is sloppy but rarely dull, exploitative but gleefully so. But indie horror films, either stateside models or imports, need to work harder to compete with the big studio versions for our entertainment dollar.
(Photo: Krew Boylan displays some unnerving dental work in “Primal,” a new Aussie horror film combining elements of “Cabin Fever” and “The Ruins.” IFC Home Entertainment)