★★ out of ★★★★★
Apparently, the woods are full of chatty rednecks and a pervy Bigfoot.
Special Effects Guys Who Wanna Be Directors!
Today’s contender comes to us from director/co-writer Patrick Magee. Primal Rage (also known as Primal Rage: The Legend of Oh-Mah) is Magee’s directorial debut, but he’s no stranger to the film industry. He’s been working in the special effects shop on various movies for nigh unto 20 years. Jurassic Park III (2001), AVP: Alien vs. Predator (2004), Men in Black 3 (2012), and many others have benefitted from Magee’s skills as a sculptor/creature designer as well as SFX makeup artist. And that pedigree does shine through in Primal Rage.
As expected, the effects in the movie are very well done and, from what I could tell, seemed to be almost exclusively practical effects. From decapitation to horrendous mauling, some of them looked downright painful. Creature design was also a notch above most movies of this ilk giving an interesting take on a familiar beastie. Of course, if special effects were the problem with this movie, we’d all have to wonder how Patrick Magee had been putting food on the table for the last 20 years. So let’s dive in.
Primal Rage mainly takes place in the lush forests of the Pacific Northwest. Co-writer and cinematographer, Jay Lee, made excellent use of the natural beauty of the great outdoors when setting up his shots. We start off following Ashley Carr (Casey Gagliardi) as she’s picking up her husband, Max (Andrew Joseph Montgomery), who’s just been released from jail. While obviously not a career criminal, Max’s stint in the pokey and his reasons for being there are still a sore spot for the young couple. Some mildly convincing arguing ensues as Ashley heads away from the jail. Needing gas, they stop at the nearest Gas ‘n Sip to refuel and get taunted by the local redneck ne’er-do-wells. Having been well and truly taunted, Ashley and Max get back on the road and resume their witty repartee. Or, at least, until they run someone over.
Well, okay, they mostly just bumped him with the car, but still. After stopping the car and investigating, it’s pretty clear that getting hit by the car was probably a mercy for the poor fella. While Ashley calls in a report to 9-1-1, Max gets hit in the noggin by a rock as he’s trying to figure out who’s throwing rocks. Down the hill he rolls and into the river he goes with Ashley hot on his heels in rescuer mode. She manages to catch up with him, haul him to safety, and build a nice campfire to keep them both toasty warm and mosquito-free while they sit outside to dry off. All night. Naked.
Meanwhile, Bigfoot steals their car.
Oh, and the other movie that’s happening at the same time — because that’s what it feels like — goes something like this… A Native American sheriff (played by the hard workin’ Eloy Casados) who doesn’t believe in the legends of Oh-Mah (a.k.a., Bigfoot) is saddled with a deputy (Justin Rain; TV’s Fear the Walking Dead) who’s a fervent believer. He’s also up to his armpits in mysterious disappearances that his deputy attributes to the creature of legend.
They receive a 9-1-1 call about a car vs. pedestrian accident and the sheriff goes to investigate. When he gets to the reported location, there’s nothing to see: no body, no car, nothin’. That is, until he spots Ashley’s car that Bigfoot had cleverly hidden in the brush. His investigation of the event starts there and the two storylines do eventually collide, but they never seem like they’re parts of the same whole. The mythology of Oh-Mah is interesting and does add some good flavor to the movie, but the way it’s presented is just awkward. Shifting back to the sheriff’s storyline was always an “Oh, right! This guy!” moment when it all should have been much more seamless.
Anyway, let’s get back to Bigfoot (which, incidentally, is what I kept hoping for every time we had to go check on what the sheriff was doing). Naked Max and naked Ashley wake up naked by the river and all of Ashley’s clothes are missing. Natch. Fully clothed Max weirdly takes this all in stride, but what do I know? Maybe Ashley has a history of losing every stitch of clothing she used to be wearing. He lends her a shirt, though, so it’s all good.
While attempting to get back to the road, our duo hikes into the forest and runs into the good ol’ boys from the gas station who turn out to be the most talkative bunch of poachers/rednecks you’ve ever seen. Veiled threats, sexual innuendo, and back-country jokes worthy of a Hee Haw re-run go on and on. It’s truly a relief when Bigfoot starts killing everyone.
Well, almost everyone.
As it turns out, Bigfoot’s been stalking Ashley since the car accident. To the point where she gets kidnapped, hauled off to Bigfoot’s cave, and there’s a completely gratuitous and utterly mystifying scene which got Bigfoot added to the National Sex Offender database. Really? The writers thought that was somehow integral to the story? C’mon, guys.
Finally, the two storylines meet up towards the end and you could just tell both of them were surprised the other one had been there the whole time and neither one of them knew it. As is common with first time writer/directors, pacing was very uneven in Primal Rage. The sheriff’s storyline dragged, the encounter with the gang of poachers dragged, most of Ashley’s time in Bigfoot’s cave dragged, but now and then there’d be a part that zipped right along. For lovers of practical special effects, the movie has some fun stuff to show off, but the roller-coaster pacing and lackluster script make waiting for the good stuff more of a chore than it should be.
Kudos should be given to Patrick Magee for getting his first movie out the door, but I suggest waiting for his second before taking the plunge.