Dominic Purcell as Tim Manfrey
Brooke Langton as Aviva Masters
Orlando Jones as Steven Johnson
Jürgen Prochnow as Jacob Krieg
Gideon Emery as Mathew Collins
Gabriel Malema as Jojo
Linda Mpondo as Gold Tooth
Lehlohonolo Makoko as Beanpole
Dumisani Mbebe as Harry
Eddy Bekombo as Ato
Chris April as Captain
Ernest Ndhlovu as Shaman
Erika Wessels as Dr. Cathy Andrews
Directed by Michael Katleman
Owing more to “Jaws” and “Orca” than “Anaconda,” this adventure-thriller still suffers from the predictable formula issues that comes with its creature feature roots.
Television producer Tim Manfrey (Dominic Purcell) leads a team down to the Burundi section of Africa to investigate and try to capture a large killer crocodile dubbed Gustave, who has been killing and eating hundreds of natives.
For some reason, the makers of this film don’t want you to know an important part of the premise going into the movie, which seems pretty silly when it’s revealed quite literally within the first five minutes as a scientist examining a series of mass graves in Africa is dragged to her doom. Seconds later, the news is reporting the crocodile-slaying and a television producer (Purcell) is shipped off with a cameraman (Orlando Jones) and cub reporter (Evangeline Lilly lookalike Brooke Langton) to capture the croc, not on film but for real. They’re more or less ably assisted by a local hunter and a Steve Irwin wannabe who’s devised a plan to cage the beast.
While some people going into “Primeval” might know about the croc, those tempted by the thought of a gruesome serial killer thriller might be surprised to learn that it’s really an African adventure-thriller where a group of characters looking for this croc, end up encountering terror of a more human nature. You see, there are two Gustaves posing a threat to the people of Burundi, one being the croc living in the river and the other being a mysterious local warlord at the center of a bloody civil war. The latter element allows the film to take a more serious, real world approach to the material, rather than being the silly B-movie creature feature that’s become so common. Then again, those expecting a non-stop series of croc killings might get bored, as it takes the far more effective “Jaws approach” of making the beast’s presence felt without having it be a constant.
It’s rare for this kind of movie to have a decent cast. In that sense, Dominic Purcell (“Prison Break”) is a better actor than the normal young pretty boy, but he’s a bit stiff overall, and not really the normal movie protagonist who steps into the heroic role one might expect. Instead, he allows this to be more of an ensemble thing with all of the actors pulling their weight, and only Jürgen Prochnow is acting as if he’s slumming it with his part as a vengeful hunter. More often than not, it’s Orlando Jones who steals the movie, as the smart-mouthed cameraman who delivers a few hysterical quips at just the right time to lighten things up. Those who start counting the minutes until his character gets CHOMPed might be waiting a bit longer than normal. Other than Jones, it remains an intensely serious affair with the only real laughs being the intentional kind.
The script for a movie like this could have been an abomination, but it’s not so bad, maybe since the writers actually did some research into the politics of Africa, which is ably incorporated into the plot to make it smarter than the average monster movie. Then again, as much as it tries to break away from the formulaic cliches inherent with that genre, it does downshift into a predictable pattern at a certain point and never recovers.
Michael Katleman does a decent job with the material, delivering a suspenseful thriller, rather than going for actual scares, but it fully earns its R-rating with a few gruesome maulings that would sate the most bloodthirsty of viewer. Really though, it’s never so much about that, as it is about this group of characters trying to survive in the setting, and Katleman takes full advantage of the film’s gorgeous African environment, while giving the movie a distinctive look.
In the end though, it was probably wise for the film’s marketing team to sidestep the crocodile, because it’s not exactly the greatest CG achievement ever put on film, making it the movie’s weakest link. It looks okay when stationary, but it doesn’t really move or act like you might expect a croc to move, even a super-fast giant one. Things tend to happen so fast when Gustave shows up that it’s often hard to tell what’s going on, and when we finally see the beast in the daylight, it looks more silly than menacing as it waddles quickly after its latest kill. There are also some serious issues with the shifting size of the beast, rarely remaining consistent, and it never really seems as huge as it’s implied. With that in mind, those seeing this movie just for the crocodile might feel let down, and others might be surprised that the movie might have worked just as well or better without it.
The Bottom Line:
“Primeval” is by no means terrible, and it certainly has enough laughs and thrills to keep things entertaining for a good 70 minutes, but ultimately, it’s disappointing in how predictable it becomes, simply due to the formulaic nature of its genre roots.