★ / ★★★★
Even if you choose to turn off your brain, Michael Katleman’s creature feature “Primeval” is still an awful movie, bogged down by political commentary that has no place in a gory monster film. As a result, the work is a strange mix of two pictures, the former wanting to be taken seriously and the latter aspiring to be campy fun. It doesn’t work because the two sides are so extreme. For example, in one scene, we are witnessing an execution of an entire family. In the next, a wisecracking cameraman is attempting to outrun a massive crocodile in an open field.
Journalist Tim Manfrey (Dominic Purcell) is assigned to cover a story involving a man-eating crocodile that has recently taken the life of a British anthropologist in war-ravaged Burundi. Tim scoffs at the idea because the story isn’t exactly Pulitzer material; he wishes to cover “real stories” instead. But that’s not all, according to his boss. Tim must capture the giant croc named Gustave—alive—with the help of a herpetologist (Gideon Emery). The news station must get exclusive rights for such a phenomenal and profitable story. This satirical angle regarding corporate greed and sensationalism ought to have been explored further. Camp and satire can make an effective and savagely entertaining combination. For instance, writers John Bracanto and Michael Ferris, if ambition were actually on the table, might have chosen to connect the ravenous mainstream media to the insatiable stomach of the crocodile.
But when Tim and his crew get to Africa, the story gets stuck in endless exposition—and cliché. Here is a movie that consistently shows Burundi as poor, backwards, and desperate. The one African character we meet that is a nice guy wishes to go to America—no matter the cost. The other black characters are killers, shamans, victims of black-on-black crime. It’s ironic that the material wishes to make left-leaning political statements, but the material itself suffocates in its traditionalism. Its heart is in the right place, but what actually matters is the final product. Subtlety is not the work’s strong point. And so why not simply focus on providing suspense and thrills surrounding the news crew and the apex predator?
The more grisly scenes leave a lot to be desired. Due to its limited budget, the CGI is not first-rate. Notice that action sequences involving the crocodile take place mostly during the night. And that’s all right. What matters more is the build-up before the croc attack. Well, it fails to deliver on that front either. Because there are far too many characters running around, panicking, and yelling over one another, tension diffuses just as the score begins to soar. Observe how there is not one extended moment when a person must be extremely quiet in order to avoid being detected by the crocodile. Because from the director’s point of view, the shot of a person being bit and thrown about holds more significance.
Forget science. You won’t get even a whiff of that in this movie. There is a gargantuan crocodile living in the waters alongside people who fish in order to make a living—and yet there is not one mention of decreasing marine populations or how the croc has impacted the local economy. Instead, we get banter between Tim the journalist and Aviva the reporter (Brooke Langton) which centers around the latter being beautiful physically and so it must mean she doesn’t have to work hard for her accomplishments. The more I think about how the film is written, the more embarrassing it becomes. Imagine sitting through this fluff for an hour and thirty minutes.