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Written By Matthew Sadowski

Director: Nicholas Powell Starring: Nicolas Cage, Famke Janssen, Kevin Durand. Primal 97min 2019.

Primal opens with Nicolas Cage as hunter Frank Walsh, who has just nabbed a rare white jaguar in some South American jungle. Local villagers warn him that the “jag” is cursed, but with cigar in mouth and whiskey in hand, he berates the locals for their superstition and screams at a parrot eating his lunch (he “does not like people,” we are later told). Frank books passage on a cargo ship bound for America, keeping his new prize and several other dangerous animals below deck. 

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At this point, I was more than ready for a simple story of some wild animals getting loose on a ship and picking off the crew one by one. Nicolas Cage fighting off critters is the type of fodder the internet lives for (i.e. 2006’s The Wicker Man). Unfortunately, the script felt the need to complicate things by introducing captured mercenary Loffler (Kevin Durand), along with several buff U.S. Marshalls and a Navy doctor (Famke Janssen) who must escort Loffler to face justice.

Of course, Loffler escapes and frees the animals to wreak havoc so he can plan more mischief. You’d think a loose killer and a boatload of wild animals would be ripe for some imaginative kills. However, the movie becomes more concerned with guns than with teeth. Aside from one amusing attack by a family of monkeys, the animals rarely affect the characters directly, becoming little more than an inconvenience for much of the movie.

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The film ends up relying on standard action movie imagery of dudes creeping around with guns at the ready, but most of the time they are framed in medium-shot, making it seem like there is plenty of room to breathe. To make things worse, much of the action takes place under a visibly high ceiling in the ship’s sparsely stocked cargo hold.

The characters may feel trapped, but we are not there with them. Alien this is not. Nicolas Cage is capable of making almost any film he is in memorable, due to his routinely fascinating and bizarre performances. Who better to upstage wild animals than Cage? Primal, however, never realizes what juicy material it could have for him to work with and falls back on a generic plot and bland imagery that you could find in almost any other action film.

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