The marketing campaign for Primeval was intentionally vague as to the identity of its villain, thus likely prompting more than a few groans from moviegoers who discovered too late that “the most prolific serial killer in history” was in fact a giant, digitally rendered crocodile. Crikey!
But the marketing slant also obscured a surprisingly political nature to the film. While no one will confuse Primeval with Hotel Rwanda or even Tears from the Sun, it aims to expose the same sort of internal African strife, this time in Burundi and with the added complication of a 30-foot reptile. Sort of like Schindler’s List with a Yeti.
The story follows an American news crew documenting the hunt for the legendary killer crocodile Gustave, who’s gained sudden notoriety after killing a UN forensic anthropologist. Steven (Orlando Jones), the wacky black cameraman, points out the racial politics of the situation: “This crocodile’s like O.J. Simpson. He messed up when he killed that white woman.”
Later, when naïve Aviva (Brooke Langton) questions why, if Gustave has really killed hundreds of locals, it hasn’t been reported on the American news, hero Tim (the abnormally square-headed Dominic Purcell) adds “Why would it? Thousands have died here. That hasn’t made the news.” It’s this sort of social insight that elevates Primeval above typical marauding animal fare (hello, SyFyl), although unfortunately, social insight isn’t what most horror fans crave.
For the first two-thirds of the movie, Primeval seems to forget that it even is a horror film, focusing instead on the group’s dealings with a warlord who discovers that Steven has taped him killing a local religious leader. Shaman you! That said, the filmmakers’ efforts are admirable; not particularly scary or thrilling, but admirable. And they even provide a reasonable connection between the genocide and the crocodile; turns out that all of the bodies dumped into the water have given Gustave the taste for human flesh.
Apart from the political backdrop, the film is pretty routine for the genre, with the usual lineup of characters: the rock-jawed hero, the bleeding-heart heroine, the scientist-type guy who wants to capture the beast alive, the vengeance-seeking Ahab archetype who wants it dead, the assorted helpless African extras (even a little girl!) who get eaten for our amusement and of course, the smack-talking comic relief black guy.
Actually, for characters of this ilk, Steven’s not too annoying — at least, when not delivering lines worthy of a Jay Leno monologue, like “I feel like a pork chop on Queen Latifah’s dinner plate!” — and he’s infinitely more likable than the somber Tim and the whiny Aviva. He’s even mildly amusing at times, as when he complains to himself, “I’d never say this in front of a bunch of white people, but slavery was a good thing. Anything you gotta do to get the fuck outta Africa is OK with me.” Perhaps that’s one too many jokes about Africa, though, because he then proceeds to get eaten. Karma is a mutha.