You're always looking for new angles in horror films, and these days a lot of great new ideas are coming out of independent cinema, guys (and girls) without a lot of money, but bucket loads of ingenuity and creativity. But a small budget doesn't guarantee an original story or a great film. Primitive has a somewhat original take on the standard monster film, but overall is a failure.
Martin (Matt O'Neill) is a down on his luck movie effects guy, who has problems with angry outbursts and impulse control. Soon after an unsuccessful bout of anger management hypno-therapy, conducted by Dr. Stein (horror fan favorite Reggie Bannister), he hears that his mother has died, and travels back to his home town to attend the funeral. His stepfather Gary (Mike Zehr), who is also his uncle, welcomes him, but it is clear that their relationship is strained.
Martin's girlfriend Nicole (Kristin Lorenz) is able to join him in a few days, bringing along with her obnoxious film director Warren (Mayank Bhatter). Soon enough, Martin starts to lose his temper, and the objects of his anger begin to die, as if mauled by a giant beast.
There aren't a tremendous number of surprises in Primitive. The story actually has a number of points in common with Mike Judge's Office Space, in that a session of hypnosis causes unintended side effects, though of course, this is not a comedy. There are a lot of things to like about the film. The production value is very nice. There's a lot of really impressive imagery, good camera work, better than decent effects, and pretty good performances, especially Monty Wall, who plays Sheriff Monaker. The monster itself is a guy in a suit, and tends to the goofy side, but that's more than understandable given the budget these folks are working with.
However, and it's a big "however", there are too many things that don't work for Primitive to be a success. First off, they show the monster too soon, and in essentially full light, which only accentuates the somewhat cheesy aspects, which could have been minimized if it was kept in shadow. Secondly, the plot doesn't really hold together. The back story is clunky and ill delivered. Martin tends to be sort of a jerk, and the viewer doesn't have a chance to identify with him or care about the outcome for any of the characters. No sense of fright or disquiet is ever developed, let alone maintained. All the essentials for a quality, affecting experience are lacking.
In short, Primitive is a technically adept execution of a sub-par, muddled story. There's stuff to like, but it lacks the exuberance that makes up for all that's lacking in a low budget film. Rent this one.
Video is 1.78:1 widescreen, and looks pretty good. Everything is very much too bright for an effective horror movie, but the image is sharp and the colors pop. No grain or other problem is noticeable.
Audio is Dolby digital 5.1 channel, and sounds good, though the film doesn't rely too heavily on sound for effect. Dialogue is always audible, and no hiss or other problem can be heard. Subtitles are available in English and Spanish, but no alternate language track is included.
A number of extras are included. They are:
Interview with Actor Reggie Bannister
Bannister, well known from the Phantasm films, among many others, gives an eight minute interview talking about how we are frightened, and the difference between shooting on film or digitally.
Deconstructing the Special Effects of Primitive
At just under four minutes, this featurette details how a few subtle CG effects in the film were accomplished.
Interview with Creature Effects Creator Tom Devlin
This is just over eleven minutes, and is actually quite interesting. Devlin discusses creature effects on big and small films, working with actors, set anecdotes, and the general process for creating a creature suit.
Two minutes and change of guns jamming, people flubbing their lines and other goofs.
A fairly decent trailer for the feature.
Commentary with Director Benjamin Cooper, And Actors Matt O'Neill, Rachel Riley and Gregory Paul Smith
This is the most substantial of the extras, and as with any good commentary, provides a deeper insight into what it took to make the film. These folks are clearly friends, committed filmmakers, and engaging people, and it adds a level of enjoyment to listen to them talk about the film, Cooper's previous work for Fred Olen Ray, the cast staying together in one house during the shoot, and more of this kind of thing.
Primitive is technically a pretty accomplished film, with good performances, effects (within budget limitations), and a very stylish look. These points can't overcome the awkward storyline, or gin up enough tension to make this into the kind of horror film it needed to be. One hopes that Mr. Cooper and his team will continue to make films, and perhaps nail down the dramatically inclined aspect of the task. Overall, this is a good effort that didn't quite hit the mark, but that's a lot better than making no effort at all.