The exorcism film. Has it ever lived up to its contemporary creator, The Exorcist? Not really. Yet, here we are four decades later still letting Hollywood churn them out like soap operas.
Incarnate, the latest effort (if we can call it that) from Blumhouse Tilt, takes the possessed child angle to “new heights” by providing our exorcist character Dr. Seth Embers (Aaron Eckhart) with an ability to enter the victim’s subconscious during the exorcism. In short, Incarnate is The Exorcist meets Inception, only without everything that makes those films interesting and different.
The wheelchair-bound Embers is executing exorcisms (or “evictions”) in search for the demon Maggie. Maggie has also been searching for him so that she can cause him interminable pain, only it has taken Embers dozens of exorcisms to find her. Horror movies don’t need logical premises, right?
The reality check with Incarnate is that if it was worth seeing you would have heard of it by now. The fact that you probably haven’t says something. The film was not given a marketing push or press screenings. It has been released on a soft weekend looking to grab a couple million without coming across as the egregious failure that it is.
Still, let’s be fair. Aaron Eckhart is a good actor. Even dressed up as if his character is going as Tom Cruise in Born on the Fourth of July for Halloween, he is a good actor. This said, a good actor cannot save a failure of a script.
Every line of dialogue feels like a forced bit of exposition. There is no life to it at all. You can tell that a script is problematic when it uses words like Ash and Ember to name its characters, because…subtlety.
On a technical level, the film is not much better. Aside from some basic cityscape shots, the entire film is shot on cramped indoor sets that make for few quality shots. The room in which the majority of the action takes place is simply an empty, dark room.
Even if there was mise-en-scene worth looking at, the lighting is too faulty to properly show it off. The lighting is atrocious in every scene but those that take place within the subconscious. In one early scene, Eckhart’s stern reaction is meant to be the focus of the shot, but his face is imperceptible in the darkness. Strangely, though, the rest of the room is lit in low, soft light that looks unnatural.
The film’s “novel” angle is a poor, ill-conceived attempt at bankability. In the world of this film, a person’s soul is a wifi hotspot, REM sleep is equivalent to a near death state, and demons don’t seem to do anything except jump from host to host.
Incarnate doesn’t do anything, either. It is the most throwaway horror movie of 2016. The film houses one character, Eckhart’s, and that character is based on one trait: his blinding determination. Our other characters include a mother who can only be described as that, a father with a bipolar understanding of affection that turns on a dime for plot convenience, a surrogate for the Vatican that supplies no tension to the plot when she easily could have (to better narrative effect), and two assistants to the exorcism that blather pseudo-science nonsense for the guise of authenticity.
Words cannot describe the lack of urgency in this plot. A character’s death is thrown to the wind with a few throwaway lines of obligatory dialogue. The demon’s entire motivation for why it is tormenting Dr. Embers is pretty much a MacGuffin, or at the very least it is poorly set up. Not to mention that the only source of horror in the entire movie literally sits in one spot the entire movie.
Speaking of the boy, the film’s antagonizing demon is a blatant cliche, a useless tool for tepid horror violence. The pitched down voice, blacked out eye monster that has been done hundreds of times is no longer effective, if it ever was.
Incarnate, if not a lazy attempt at profits, is a colossal mishandling of horror convention. Either way, the value of the film is undoubtedly next to nothing. Every plot point in this essentially plot-less film will come across as tired and predictable, and Eckhart’s ability to handle acting at its most basic is the only particle of quality the film spits out at the audience.
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)