Review: INCARNATE Is a Fun Ride, But Misses Some Opportunities


{All images courtesy Incarnate Facebook page}

Written by Ronnie Chrisensen
Directed by Brad Peyton
Produced by Blumhouse Tilt
Copyright 2016

A compelling premise defeated by predictable storytelling and a demon that’s just not that scary.

The pitch for Incarnate, the latest by director Brad Peyton (San Andreas), was probably something similar to “it’s like Inception meets the Exorcist.” The film doesn’t quite deliver on its catchy premise, but the result is an engaging ride with some fresh ideas, albeit few true scares.

Incorporating a pseudo-scientific angle, distancing itself from religion, Incarnate sets up a world we haven’t seen before – inside of the possessed host’s mind. And though the Vatican and a demon burning cross necklace are still involved, it was nice to see a possession film not over run with priests and religious jargon (only one Latin line guys!) Still, the film ultimately falls victim to many of the traditional exorcism tropes, which combined with an overall predictable storyline leaves the audience with a bit less than they hoped.

Dr. Seth Ember (Aaron Eckhart, The Dark Knight) spends his days tracking down and liberating demonically possessed humans in hopes of finding the evil entity responsible for the car accident which killed his family and left Ember himself in a wheelchair. His style of exorcism is to enter the afflicted’s subconscious a la Leo DiCaprio in Inception, and awaken them to the fantasy world that the evil entity is holding them in. Once they realize what they are experiencing isn’t real, the host is able to expel the entity from their body. Ember rejects all religious processes and language surrounding exorcism. He adamantly calls demons “parasitic entities” and proclaims his exorcisms are “evictions” because he evicts the entity from the inside out. But when a Vatican emissary (Catalina Sandino Moreno, At The Devil’s Door) reveals a boy named Cameron (David Mazouz, Gotham) is suspected of being possessed by the arch-demon he has been hunting for years, he must work with her and the boy’s mother (Carice van Houten, Game of Thrones) to save Cameron and vanquish the centuries old entity once and for all.

After mulling it over, I think my primary issue with Incarnate is that I wanted more Incarnate! There are so many touched upon back stories and little details that could have beefed up the relatively short 79-minute film. There was a particularly juicy missed opportunity to explore Ember’s faith or loss of faith after the death of his family. His deceased wife wore a cross necklace, and there are some allusions to Ember previously having some sort of relationship with religion before his life was shattered by a homicidal demon. However, we never get more than his defiance to religious labels and his proclamation that he “does not clock in for the Vatican.” His transition from family man to “evictor” is completely skimmed over, not to mention his seemingly complicated relationship with a fellow demon hunter, named Felix (Tomas Arana, Gladiator).

And let’s talk about Felix for a moment. That guy’s warehouse looks like a crazy art smugglers den, and he is I AM LEGEND-ing the possessed? Tell me more about that! Don’t just use his character as a plot device to tell us about some “fail safe” serum and walk away! Can we get a prequel?

Another issue is the film’s lack of a compelling villain. Ember’s arch-nemesis, the entity he calls ‘Maggie,’ does little more than your run of the mill demon tricks. Lots of crawling up walls, snapping necks, inky eyes, creepy voice, and so on. Other than being difficult to ‘evict,’ the audience isn’t shown what makes her the baddest demon in town. Cameron is stationary and silent the vast majority of the time he is possessed. Not an incredibly intimidating foe.

Overall, I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy the film. I liked its diversion from typical religious exorcisms, and all the actors give full, charismatic performances. If you are a fan of Eckhart, as I am, you will enjoy watching his enthusiastic and committed turn as Ember. The film never enters the realm of kitsch or camp, and is genuinely gripping at some points. It is a satisfying enough ride that will hopefully lead to more filmmaking exploring the scientific exorcism sub-genre.

Ayla Glass is a contributor for SciFi4Me and an aficionado of psychological thrillers and Spaghetti-O’s


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