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Parents' Guide to

Primal Fear

By Kat Halstead, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 17+

Courtroom thriller has strong language, sex abuse, violence.

Movie R 1996 129 minutes
Primal Fear Poster Image

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this movie.

Community Reviews

age 14+

Based on 1 parent review

age 14+

This intricate thriller has strong language, sexual abuse and some violent images

Primal Fear (1996) is a thriller following Martin Vail, an attorney unraveling the case of Aaron, an alter-boy accused of murdering the pastor and bishop of his church. The film contains themes of violence and sexual abuse along with strong language. VIOLENCE: MODERATE The violence and imagery, although bloody at times, is very outdated to today’s standards. A man has his fingers sliced off on one hand, a very large amount of blood sprays up in the air in medium-closeup slow motion while his fingers are shown flying, he is also shown screaming before he is slammed through multiple windows, although this is shown outside with no shot of the victim. Very brief and bloody, however outdated and somewhat cheesy to today’s standards. Throughout the film we follow the case of a man who was murdered. On several occasions we see his mutilated corpse. He is shown with his eyes gauged out and with 78 stab wounds (we hear about and see it) along with his fingers cut. We don’t see these images for long, just in pictures on multiple occasions and in person in one sequence. Blood is shown splattered all over the walls as well. We see and hear about a priest sexually abusing 2 alter boys and a woman. In the tape of their assault, we see the woman forced to give an alter boy oral sex and the other is told to penetrate her from behind, the sex isn’t shown, but the woman’s head is shown bobbing at the mans crotch. Several fights and attacks consisting of punching, shoving and pushing, there is never any graphic or bloody injuries in the film aside from the murder of the priest. A mans corpse is revealed with a bullet wound in his head. We hear about a woman’s death. LANGUAGE: SEVERE 62 uses of “f*ck” usually said loudly or violently from one particular character and said normally by others. Several uses of “sh*t” and “b*tch”, one use each of “c*cksucker”, “c*nt” and “d*ck”, use of “a**” and one use of “a**hole” along with milder swears like “hell”, “damn” and “jesus”. SEXUAL CONTENT: MODERATE A brief, but strong scene of sexual abuse. 2 alter boys and a girl are placed in front of a camera while a priest is behind a camera directing and ordering them to do sexual acts. Both the boys get completely naked, one has his buttocks completely visible and no nudity is shown on the other. The girl takes off her top revealing her breasts before she gets on her knees and begins giving oral sex to the naked boy. Her head is shown bobbing in front of his crotch before the priest orders the other boy to have sex with her from behind and the video cuts. The abuse is mentioned several times throughout and becomes a main plot point. We hear dialogue about the priest “getting off” to it and several other things, but the video is the most graphic part. DRUG CONTENT: MILD A woman smokes throughout because of her job and anxiety, a man drinks and it is hinted at that he is drunk in one scene. No drinking or smoking is shown to excess, however. OVERALL MATURITY LEVEL: 6.6/10

This title has:

Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing

Is It Any Good?

Our review:
Parents say (1 ):
Kids say (1 ):

Released in 1996, this dark courtroom thriller benefits from three striking central performances. In Primal Fear, Gere makes a familiar-sounding role his own, offering more nuance than the genre typically demands. In addition, the subtle defiance and combative nature brimming beneath the surface of Linney's lawyer elevates her role above what could have been a good-cop, bad-cop dynamic between the two. It's also the movie that put Norton on the map, earning him an Oscar nomination for his first ever feature film appearance -- his intense performance expressing intricate shades of emotion with the twitch of his mouth or a flicker of an eye.

Though built on familiar tropes, the movie rises about its peers with well-thrashed-out characters at all levels, and a narrative that concentrates as keenly on the psychological drama as it does on the grisly basis for the court case or the corrupt circus that surrounds it. Debut feature director Gregory Hoblit utilizes his experience on shows such as Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law, and NYPD Blue and condenses it into a tense psychological thriller rich with shadowy menace and a sense of confidence that allows the impressive cast to shine.

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