Primal Screen (2017) Review

After deconstructing Kubrick’s horror masterpiece in Room 237 and making us scared to ever go to sleep again in The Nightmare Rodney Ascher returns with a journey into childhood fears and phobias -a film that may only last around 30 minutes but packs more impact than you may expect.

Made as part of horror streaming site Shudder’s new Shudder Originals schedule bringing 6 brand new titles including this to its subscribers, Ascher’s Primal Screen focusses on interviews with individuals all sharing the same dread of dolls and puppets all brought on by the trailer for the 1978 movie Magic starring Anthony Hopkins as a ventriloquist whose dummy has a mind and temper of its own.

Using the same brilliant blend of documentary and horror he perfected in The Nightmare we are treated to scenes from throughout the interviewees lives played out with their voice-over guiding us from the first viewing of the terrifying trailer through the gestation of the gruesome anxiety to its effects on their adult lives and its influences on who they are today.

Spinning off in a variety of fascinating directions to explore other ideas such as our relationship with robots and the Uncanny Valley, the masks we hide behind especially when using social media and the genesis of ventriloquism in necromancy and talking to the dead Primal Screen manages to put forward both the personal and global experience simultaneously captivating the viewer throughout.

Mixing tons of great archive footage, photos and clips from films like Dead of Night and TV series such as Twilight Zone where Ascher’s documentary truly differs from others is his willingness to display the subject’s emotional reactions and overactive imaginations by visualizing their fears on screen.

As in The Nightmare where we saw the horrific hallucinations of the paralyzed participants these moments are the most striking and scary of the entire piece crossing the line between the fact and fiction brought forth by the speaker and tapping directly into something far more primal and putting it directly onto the screen.

Although many may argue this interpretation diminishes the truth of the interviews my personal opinion is it increases the audience experience and engagement forcing you to feel the fear rather than simply intellectually understand it making the documentary much more engrossing, entertaining and memorable as all Asher’s work is.

The hope is under the Primal Screen banner Asher can make a whole series such as this exploring many other dark dreams buried deep in his willing participants psyche’s all brought to life by a host of media influences from movie trailers to book covers to TV episodes.

If this is a taste of what is to come then it will be an outstanding set of mini masterpieces but for now I urge everyone to see Primal Screen regardless of whether you find puppets petrifying or not because by the end of this believe me, you will.

Movie Rating: ★

★ ★ ★ ☆ 



Alex Humphrey

Alex studied film at the University of Kent and went on to work for Universal Pictures in their Post Room gaining an inside look at the movie industry from the very bottom. Constantly writing reviews in everything from local magazines to Hip Hop sites Alex honed his critical skills even spending a brief period as a restaurant critic. Read more

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