Exclusive: Getting 'Primal' with Director Josh Reed


Combining survivalist horror with the creature-feature, Primal promises to be an intriguing blend of some of our favorite subgenres. The brainchild of writer-director Josh Reed and writer-producer Nigel Christensen, Primal is the latest in the recent wave of Australian thrillers, and shows what happens when a band of hard-partying young Aussies encounter a deadly aboriginal legend. Check out our interview with Reed, his first on the film, in which he explains his film is a product of Australia's Project Greenlight. Then watch the exclusive premirere of Primal's eye-popping red-band-worthy trailer, both after the jump.

[Warning: The following interview has one or two spoilers.]

Primal looks to combine at least two or three separate horror/thriller subgenres in a pretty novel way.

Yeah, that's true. It's probably less thriller, except that it does sort of follow a thriller-ish character arc, in that there is the sense of an escalating bad situation that these five or six people – one of them turns into a toothy flesh-eating cannibal – [find themselves in], but it does combine a couple of genres of horror. The basic set-up is that six sexy young people go out into the middle of nowhere and die horribly, but the way that that occurs is that one of them becomes infected by this thing while they're on this trip, and she sort of descends into a primal state where her teeth fall out and she grows these incisors and becomes predatory. But she's also in service of this tunnel that penetrates through the mountain that they're at, which has some sort of ancient, creature-ish entity that they don't realize is there until the climax. They think she's just hunting them; she's actually trying to kill all the men and put the women into this tunnel for various nefarious reasons.

Did you draw upon any actual folk tales in writing the script?

Not directly… It's a fairly delicate situation, because we're dealing with indigenous Australian mythology here. To some degree, my feeling is that it's actually a little bit transgressive to take an aboriginal mythology and use it for my own purposes without really fully appreciating its resonance for the Australian indigenous people. Because to them it's not necessarily mythology, it's their history. So to use that and then to sort of play with it, in my own way – which I would need to do in order to create a good horror movie out of it – I felt was particularly transgressive. I did have some good friends who sort of acted as consultants on it, and sort of made sure that we weren't stepping on any toes in that regard. But that also freed us up to just create a mythology that worked for the film and worked for the story that we wanted to tell. Obviously the rock painting that they're searching for has a resemblance to original cave paintings, and other prehistoric paintings. But at the same time we made sure the artwork didn't refer to any particular type of aboriginal cave painting, because they are all very specific to particular [groups] and to their own particular mythology, which is also related very specifically to their land. And because this was dealing with an evil entity, to make it look like it came from a specific area would actually be saying effectively that there was something wrong with these people's land, which is in turn offensive. So we had a number of legitimate concerns that we had to deal with in writing the story. And it did turn out that the more we divorced it from their actual mythology the better it was really for a number of reasons.

Can you talk about the physical challenges you encountered? Was the film mostly shot on location?

Yeah, we initially came up with the concept in order to make it at a very low budget. Because we've been working in the industry for quite a while, we've got a lot of really talented, experienced friends. We could've put together a really good team and done it really cheaply and just gone out into the middle of nowhere and stayed there for a  month and shot the thing. That was the initial plan. But then we upped the budget level a bit. Once you've done that it actually makes that sort of thing not workable, because you're dealing with equity wages and stuff like that. So then we rethought it and the aspects of it that made that ultra low-budget [film] appealing actually became prohibitive when you're dealing with a sort of high-budget level. Because suddenly you're shooting the whole thing outside. We were shooting in March-April of last year, which is, for Australia, particularly the Sydney area, a heavy rainfall period. It wasn't meant to be raining in it. In the month moving into the shoot, the weather forecast was for pretty much head-to-tail rain for the entire period of the shoot. That thankfully didn't pan out. An anti-rain dance was being performed in the pre-production period. [Laughs.] We did get some days of rain but we just shot through them because we didn't really have a choice. We had a four-week schedule and a hell of a lot of shit to get through in that time. So we couldn't afford to stop shooting. We didn't really have a lot of wet weather cover. We had some tents, which amounted to about a day of wet weather cover over a twenty-day shoot. Which didn't give us a lot of flexibility in that regard. Then we had spider, leeches… You had fifty crew members walking around, and even with light rain you suddenly had mudslides. It was arduous. Also, the bulk of it was nighttime. So pretty much the entire shoot was starting at midday, finishing about one in the morning, doing split day and night shoots. So, yeah, it was pretty hardcore.

In the wake of Wolf Creek's success, how would you characterize the Australian horror scene?

There's definitely been a resurgence in horror over the last couple of years, which is partly because of Wolf Creek. I think part of it also is that there's a lot of filmmakers in Australia who've been disenfranchised over the last two decades of really turgid family dramas and junkie films that have been made. That's been the culture of filmmaking in Australia – either these dark dramas or tedious warm and fuzzy comedies, both of which, filmmakers who are interested in visceral filmmaking, just don't have any interest in. So a lot of us who tried to get a number of projects up over the years haven't been able to, because the filmmaking culture in Australia has a snotty attitude towards genre films. That had a two-fold effect. One is that you eventually go, "Well, fuck it, I'm just gonna make a film myself. I'm gonna forget about trying to get money out of the local industry." Then once you do, horror is the best genre to do that with. At the same time, that sort of continued frustration sort of feeds an anger and an urge to let the blood run free. So I think a lot of us have gone, "Well, we want to make something nasty."

Speaking of nasty, as a horror fan, which films have informed your work?

Yeah, I sort of grew up on horror. My dad was a filmmaker with a particular interest in horror [Colin Eggleston, director of Long Weekend]. As a kid, he used to take me to the drive-ins. I thought he was taking me to the drive-ins because he wanted to introduce me to horror.  I'm sure he was really taking me to the drive-ins to see all these films because it was cheaper than a babysitter. [Laughs.] So I sort of grew up on Hammer horror movies at the drive-ins, which I always loved. Dad's house was always full of books about vampires, which he had as research, and I was always flipping through. As a kid I was always reading Dad's scripts. So as a kid I was immersed in horror from a very early age. I guess it continued on from there. To the point where, as a teenager, I was starting to look at making my own films. Sam Raimi was a big influence then – Evil Dead II is still one of my all-time favorite films. I really love that sort of visceral horror. I love spooky horror as well, but my own particular bent is much more in a visceral vein.

In real life, what's your greatest fear?

Mediocrity, I'd reckon. Yeah, I'd say mediocrity for sure.

Can you talk about what's next for you?

Yeah, we're sort of forging ahead with the next one at the moment. Primal is in the stage of being sold at the moment; that's happening largely at the European Film Market next month. But that's in the hands of the sales agents, so we're not actually directly taken up with doing that. Which means we do have time to focus on the next one, which is sort of a psycho-thriller satire called Hidebound. This is a project that I actually had as a finalist in the last season of Project Greenlight in Australia, and was actually the point at which we started working on Primal. Because, in Project Greenlight, it became pretty evident pretty quickly… It was an audience voting thing, and our film was dark, with sex and violence, which in an audience-voting scenario doesn't tend to float all that well. Audience-voting tends to sort of homogenize the end project. And we saw that there were a number of soft and fuzzy projects that were likely to trump us in that. So we started developing Primal, and used the fact that we were in Project Greenlight to get meetings with people to try and get that up. Then we ultimately went and did Primal on our own, just because we felt that a horror movie was a stronger first film concept to go with. We've now come back to Hidebound, which is still violent, still has sex and violence, but is I guess a different genre from Primal. We're also developing another one hopefully to follow Hidebound. The plan at the moment is to shoot Hidebound later this year. Rob [Gibson], the producer, is sot of currently making inroads into raising the finance there, and I'm working on the final draft at the moment. Then we've got another horror planned to follow Hidebound. So hopefully all of that flows on nicely and we don't have to go on and get honest jobs. [Laughs.]

Because a few of us – myself, Rob, Nige, producer John Cordukes – all write as well, we're all developing our own projects. There are a couple of other projects in the pipeline that Rob and Nige are both developing, so we've got a good slate. Hopefully we'll just continue rolling them over.