Sunday, January 6, 2019

Primal Rage (2018)

Ashley Carr (Casey Gagliardi) is picking her husband Max (Andrew Joseph Montgomery) up from a one-year prison stint. During this time apparently both of them have kicked their respective drug habit. Going by the row they get into in the car about five seconds after they’ve said hello, it’s not quite clear if things would have ended in a shouting match or a motel bed between these two. As it happens, their drive home through the Pacific Northwest towards home and their child puts a stop to whatever could have happened when they crash into an already deadly wounded man in some of those traditional lonely wooded parts. Before you can say “Bigfoot victim”, they are attacked too, and eventually find themselves half-naked and lost in the woods, stalked by something very big and hairy.

The local sheriff (Eloy Casados) is for once actually competent, but he just might have to reconcile with the beliefs of his native American forebears he is rather shying away from like your typical lapsed Catholic, before he can be any help to anyone.

Patrick Magee’s Primal Rage is that most curious of things, a bigfoot movie that isn’t completely like all other bigfoot movies you have seen before. It’s not that all of the film’s constituent elements are strikingly original, but Magee puts them together in ways I haven’t quite seen done this way before, mixing and matching elements of other sub-genres in interesting ways, and certainly shifting its tone for the final act in rather unexpected ways.

The first interesting thing about the film is how much it treats its creature – often wearing bark armour and a creepy bark mask for better woodland stealth – more like a monstrous person than the animal or monster you usually get in your bigfoot movies. This version of bigfoot – that’s actually a corrupted warrior from native American mythology tasked to guard the borders between the wild and the places inhabited by humans, now having lost itself to mindless violence and cruelty – is a tool user, and a thinker, and spends the middle part of the film acting a lot like the slasher in a backwoods slasher movie. Alas this also includes the old “bigfoot wants to rape our women trope”, though the film does its best to treat this element comparatively tastefully; it certainly helps that Ashley is generally portrayed as a tough woman who copes well with things that’ll let soft people like me or you break down. Until the end, that is, when the film wavers rather inelegantly between going the old, lame, man versus bigfoot fighting for the girl route and trying to keep treating her as a person rather than an object. Of course, how many other low budget horror movies with a rapey bigfoot would even try?

Despite this problem, the final act is rather interesting, shifting the tone from something between survival horror and backwoods slasher into the realm of fantasy, with the Sheriff and Max getting help by a wood-dwelling witch whose inspired make-up makes her look exactly like a storybook witch, a thing from folklore and fairy tale, automatically shifting the tone into somewhat more fantastic realms that stand in fascinating contrast to the naturalistic way the film draws its characters and their interactions. Apparently, these woods really are a liminal space where people can shift – or be dragged - into the realm of mythology. Which is just such a wonderfully unexpected and cool direction to go into for the film.

If you’re into the bloody stuff, you’ll be in luck here, too, for this creature certainly does like to inflict all kinds of unappetizing wounds on its victims that, not exactly a surprise given Magee’s experience as make-up effects designer, look pretty damn great. Add to that the effective performances by the ensemble and Magee’s just as effective direction, and you have one fine bigfoot film.

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