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The Primevals Review: Pure Pulp Made New

poster for the film The Primevals

David Allen’s The Primevals is a campy, goofy sci-fi adventure movie with a retro aesthetic, but this is not at all to its detriment.

The Primevals is a labor of love from one man, David Allen. In a time when puppetry and practical effects are being eclipsed by the rise of CGI, Allen remained dedicated and continued his craft. Allen began production on the film in the mid-1970s with help from Charles Band as producer, taking on a lofty special effects budget and several changes in distributors. In 1999, David Allen died at the age of 54, with the live-action sequences complete but the visual effects still needing work. Years later, Charles Band revived the project through crowdfunding and gave us the passion project fans wanted to see. It is campy, juvenile, and simplistic, but in these times, this may be exactly the type of movie most of us would want to see. Given the creator’s death and budget troubles, it is a miracle this movie saw the light of day at all. 

On its surface, The Primevals is a “Lost World” narrative. A group of Nepalese Sherpas are able to kill a yeti and present it to a museum. An expedition is undertaken to Nepal led by Dr. Claire Collier (Juliet Mills), accompanied by hunter Rondo Montana (Leon Rossum), Matthew Connor (Richard Joseph Paul), and Kathleen Reidel (Walker Brandt), to investigate the conservation status of the yeti and also get an idea of where it came from. What follows is a strange conspiracy involving early hominids, aliens, controlled environments, and existential crises. The twist may be predictable and the story itself a bit trite, but this is what David Allen usually goes for. His movies are all about the effects, taking pulp sci-fi and putting it to a visual format. His work on Young Sherlock Holmes and Willow shows as much. These are movies you watch for the visuals more than the plot.  

The acting is nothing special, with amateurish delivery and dialogue which consists of repeating the observations of one character. All of it is stilted and shot like a ‘90s sitcom, with high frame rate and obvious greenscreen. As the only player to have some degree of star power, Juliet Mills gives the most convincing performance as a wise but adventurous museum curator. The rest are forgettable and lifeless, meandering about the story and allowing things to happen to them rather than taking initiative themselves.

The Primevals embodies several clichés in its story, though many are enjoyable to point out. Ancient aliens and lost civilizations are all to be expected from pulp sci fi, and the integration of aliens into a lost world narrative is a unique storytelling choice which makes sense given how many of these stories involve a controlled environment. Still, the movie suffers from pacing issues, with almost nothing happening in the first half with breakneck speed in the last act. All of the movie’s central conflict and its showcase of stop motion effects all occur within twenty minutes of each other, leaving no time to absorb what is going on or how it is important.

The film needed a bit more time to show the lost world as well as perhaps a few more minutes building suspense to ease into the new setting. Its brisk ninety-minute runtime means these aspects are glossed over and not enough time is given to have them all sink in. The Primevals’ biggest flaw is how it feels like it’s all setup with no payoff. Had this been envisioned as a TV pilot, this may have been less noticeable, but seems underwhelming in a standalone release.

A gorilla in front of a door in the film The Primevals
The Primevals (Full Moon Pictures)

Two aspects carry The Primevals to make it not only watchable, but worthwhile. The first is David Allen’s visual effects. Not only is Allen a master of his craft in general, but it does feel refreshing to see puppets on the big screen again. CGI has come a long way, and many of today’s big CGI movies are leagues above where they were, but there is still a place for practical effects. There is just something special about knowing how what you are seeing onscreen is a prop that exists in real life. Somebody not only built it from scratch, but made it move and shot it on a set.

The yeti in particular steals the show, being an obvious homage to the famous King Kong character, but also endearing and emotional in its own right, conveying a wide range of facial expressions and physical quirks to make a distinct character and have it “act” alongside human co-stars. The second standout element is Richard Band’s score, a sweeping, moving orchestral piece which rises and falls with the action in a beautiful way. Several themes play over dialogue-less moments, allowing the music to speak for itself.

Seeing such dedication to the craft and intricacies in practical effects may make The Primevals worth one viewing. It was made on the cheap, but sometimes having cheap, mindless fun can be okay. With action films being dominated by franchises decades old and stories rehashed from long ago, it is nice to have one not tied to any existing media allowed to have its own identity. It is shlock, but the good kind of shlock; the one where you can tell the people involved had fun making it. As of now, The Primevals is not in wide release, being only part of a limited event screening through Alamo Drafthouse. If there is one in your area, and you want a good old-fashioned campy science fiction romp, this will satisfy your desires.

After its premiere at Fantasia on July 23-24 2023, The Primevals is now being screened in select Alamo Drafthouse theaters in the US.

The Primevals: Trailer (Full Moon Pictures)
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