While fans of 90’s fighting games may be disappointed to find that Primal Rage is not the story of pugilistic dinosaurs squaring off in a battle for animal supremacy as in the classic arcade experience, what director Patrick Magee does give us is a legitimately intense and well crafted Bigfoot brawl for all. Let’s dive into the action.
As we are introduced to our protagonists it’s apparent what a skilled filmmaker Magee is. Picking up her husband upon his release from a nearly 2 year prison sentence, Ashley played by Casey Gagliardi is understandably on guard. The seemingly unrepentant Max as portrayed by Andrew Joseph Montgomery isn’t making things any better as he falls right back into old habits. The shot composition and lighting make these scenes much more cinematic than your standard monster movie and set the ominous mood of what’s to come.
I’ll admit, the believable performances by these 2 actors caught me off guard. On the surface Gagliardi and Montgomery look like generic pretty people you’d find on the most recent season of Riverdale, but thanks to the subtle nuances of their dialogue laying the groundwork for their past difficulties, the viewer is instantly invested in their relationship. The efficiency in the storytelling is necessary as the bickering couple hit a person wandering into the road and their real troubles begin.
After discovering a naked, mutilated man barely clinging to life after being injured by something other than their vehicle, the couple are pelted with rocks by a beast from the woods. After a direct hit to the skull, Max tumbles down a hill into the raging river below and the expert editing of the rescue by Ashley results in a frenetic sequence that will make you feel as though you’re being dragged into the icy water along with them.
As Max and Ashley begin using rudimentary survival skills in the dense and darkened woods, we are introduced to the Sheriff of this mountain town who is dealing with locals going missing in what is being attributed to a Oh-Mah or Bigfoot by his fellow Native American deputy. The sheriff played by the late, Eloy Casados is a non-believer, but the viewer has already seen many glimpses of large ape-like paws and feet stalking through the forest, so we know it’s just a matter of time.
Adding further complication to their journey is a pack of ornery local hunters lead by Marshal Hilton. These country creeps provide just the right level of antagonism and smarminess before agreeing to help the couple back to civilization, but continuing to give them hell along the way. Little does this unlikely band of travelers know that a Sasquatch has come stalking.
The special effects make-up work in this film is really top notch and it should be no surprise given the background of the director. Not only did he work on Jurassic Park 3, Alien vs Predator and the 2002 Sam Raimi Spider-Man film, but McGee also did prosthetics for 2 well-loved comic book fan films World’s Finest and Batman: Dead End. Let’s put it this way, you’ll believe a Bigfoot can stomp.
When the action kicks in around the 50 minute mark and the hunters start being taken out, it becomes clear that this is no Harry and The Hendersons. With bark sculpted armor, bow and arrow skills and glowing red eyes, Bigfoot is a deadly warrior. The costume looks fantastic and frankly, I wish I had an action figure.
As the hairy hunter takes a dude’s head off with a hatchet or rips a man’s face in half by the jaw, the gore is unbelievably effective. Best of all, it’s 100% practical effects that when mixed with the beautiful camerawork makes the action far more visceral than anything you’ve seen on screen in a long time. The kills are staged so impressively that the effects of the recent Planet of the Apes films, however impressive that CGI work may have been, pale in comparison.
A new layer of mystery is added as Max is healed in the home of a hunchbacked witch who looks like a refugee from the Evil Dead franchise, while Ashley becomes a beautiful captive in Bigfoot’s less than comfy cavern. This imagery is all intercut with scenes of a Native American ceremony attended by the lawmen, giving the whole sequence a surrealistic feel.
The location scout of Primal Rage also deserves a heck of a lot of credit for this film, as the deep woods setting feels almost otherworldly. Mossy trees with giant trunks covered in ominous fern and fog give the story an epic feel so that when the final confrontation between the Oh-Ma warrior and our human heroes goes down the stakes are raised exponentially simply by the grim greenery of their battlefield.
What’s awesome is that Ashley’s character shows a real inner strength throughout the film. She doesn’t take guff from her husband, a pack of randy hunters or Sasquatch. Even when held captive she fights back and breaks her way out to get revenge on her captor. The moment when the couple finally lock eyes in the wood while hunting Bigfoot and realize the other survived is truly touching.
It’s in this climax that a running gag from the opening about learning the proper technique for fashioning a shiv in prison finally pays off while Max and the now injured Oh-Mah battle one on one in the closest thing we get to Primal Rage video game style action. While Max’s mud-soaked look harkens back to Schwarzenneger’s throw down with the Predator, the ultimate end of one of the contenders is much more brutal than that space warrior’s cowardly self-destruct move.
The shocking ending of Primal Rage perfectly sets up a sequel that I hope comes sooner than later, since this is honestly the best film I have reviewed for Popgeeks.net up to this point. It deserves to be seen by as many people as possible.
Killer action, strong performances by our lead actors and excellent work behind the camera make Primal Rage one of the strongest genre films of the year so far. It’s screening nationwide for one night only on February 27th through Fathom Events before hitting VOD, so keep an eye out for this awesome adventure flick.