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It is sheer coincidence that holds the two subplots of Primeval together, and it is this lack of a concrete, more complex idea that makes the film such an incoherent mess. These smaller parts do little to compliment one another and never quite come together as a cohesive whole. The creators of Primeval manage to turn what could have been a clever jab at a societal issue into a tackless morality club with which to batter its audience repeatedly over the head. Populating this disjointed sub-par horror effort are intangible characters that take part in dull conversations with one another and do little to rejuvenate the plot.
Primeval is set in South Africa where a ruthless dictator known as “little Gustave” is committing mass genocide (first subplot) and then dumping the bodies into the nearby lake where, coincidentally, a 50-foot man-eating crocodile named Gustave is lurking (second subplot). Tim Manfrey (Dominic Purcell, “Prison Break”) and Aviva Masters (Brooke Langton, “Friday Night Lights”) are two American journalists sent, along with cameraman Steven Johnson (Orlando Jones), to investigate the murders. Their assignment turns near-fatal when both of the Gustaves discover their presence and begin to hunt them down.
Unfortunately, Orlando Jones, whose acting in Primeval seems like a compilation of his own stand-up routines, bogs down the early moments of tension. Normally a welcome addition, his humor changes the hostile situation at hand into a more lighthearted affair. Even faced with knowledge that a 50-foot crocodile lurks in the waters around him, Jones cannot resist the urge to spout a quip: “You know, that croc's a lot like OJ. He made a mistake when he killed that white woman.” Jones isn’t truly acting here, just performing comedy for an audience.
In spite of Jones’s performance, Primeval still manages to create some frightful moments, all of which focus on Gustave and his habit of attacking his victims just as the soundtrack becomes quiet. It is the careful planning and precise execution of director Michael Katleman that allows for a creature like Gustave to work when he does appear. His appearances are brief, just long enough for the audience to recognize what is happening, but not long enough for the audience to scrutinize. Gustave is the end result of computer animation, and the CGI creation blends seamlessly in the cover of darkness during short cuts where Gustave snatches food from beneath the waters depths. However, during one particularly long scene where Gustave emerges from the water and chases Jones’s character down through the jungle, the animation shows its weakness and winds up looking cheap. As Gustave waddles past trees and over logs, chasing after his victim, one cannot help but notice the imperfections in the movement of the beast, and the same creature that once instilled fear now evokes laughter. Gustave still manages to be effective in shorter cuts, but in longer takes, he falls short of being truly terrifying.
Even with moments of animated shortcomings, Primeval still could have been a decent monster movie, had it been strictly focused on its monster. Instead, the film wanders over to the subplot involving “little Gustave,” whose involvement in the film merely serves to deliver a message about our ignorance of the tragedies that happen in other countries on a daily basis. Aviva suggests filming “little Gustave” committing his heinous crimes and then taking the footage back to the States, but the quick-witted cameraman informs her that “a bunch of white people” won’t care about what is happening to “a bunch of Africans.” Putting a political message within the confines of a horror movie has worked before, but in a much greater film: James Cameron’s Aliens contains several parallels to the Vietnam War, but the message is so latent that excessive digging — along with multiple viewings — of the film is required to discover its true meaning. Such a political message in Primeval feels trivial and out of place because it is so plain and obvious; it feels as though the characters practically scream, “This is what the movie is REALLY about!”
There is little to recommend in Primeval and the mixed-bag of jokes from Jones’s character might even turn some people off. Though the dialogue is uninspired, uninteresting, and particularly flat, the film’s most disheartening flaw is that it lacks a truly focused plot, opting instead for two subplots that do little to relate to one another or the audience. Is this film about a giant man-eating crocodile or is it a film that will warn its audience of African genocide? It is obvious that the creators of Primeval had both in mind, but once the film was over, I had neither in mind. Though there are brand new movies like Primeval on the horror shelves each week, don’t forget that films like Aliens are just a few rows away.