Movie Review: Incarnate

Exorcism tale was not possessed by a coherent script

Directed by Brad Peyton
With Aaron Eckhart, Carice van Houten, Catalina Sandino Moreno, David Mazouz, Keir O'Donnell, Matt Nable

Demonic possession films have become a semi-popular genre, and the audience for these things know how the basic plot should go. The makers of Incarnate, though, have their own ideas on the subject and in the end deliver much more confusion than scares.

The usually reliable actor Aaron Eckhart is slumming it in this dodgy trash as some sort on non-denominational exorcist named Dr. Seth Ember. His gimmick is that he enters people's minds and tries to convince the person inside that he has been duped by an evil spirit, and nothing he or she is seeing is real. The spirit shows the possessed person a pleasant fantasy, a secret desire. The only escape from the possessing spirit is for the possessed person to jump out of a high window to get back to the real world. We can all see were this is going.

When wandering around inside someone's head and enticing them to self-defenestrate to end the enticing fantasy, Dr. Ember is clean-shaven and can walk. When he leaves to be in the real world, he is an unkempt mess and using a wheelchair. His condition, of course, is due to some former encounter with a demon. It takes a while for the filmmakers to get around to explaining it, though.

This gap between real and fantasy worlds is not a new idea. It has been done before in films like The Matrix, but also the 2000 thriller The Cell with Jennifer Lopez, and going way back in the 1984 sci-fi film Dreamscape with Dennis Quaid.

Incarnate plays the idea like it is original. Dr. Ember is hooked up to monitors and has his assistants to stand by and look frantic while the lines on the monitors go erratic as he sits in a trance.

For reasons that are not at all clear, a spirit called Maggie has made it her goal to torment Dr. Ember by possessing other people. So Dr. Ember keeps entering the minds of possessed people hoping to find this Maggie and destroy her.

His main patient, and what takes up the bulk of the film is the possession of a young boy named Cameron, played by David Mazouz. He has been in the so-so horror films The Darkness (2016) and Sanitarium (2013), as well as the TV series Gotham. In Incarnate he mostly sits and tries to make a scary face, sometimes speaking in a demonic voice. He seems to be laughing to himself most of the time at how silly this all is. If he can't take the role seriously, then nobody else can.

The plot also drags in a weird reclusive priest living in some sort of warehouse, and some envoy from the Vatican to say some important sounding things.

There is also quite a bit of inconsistency. At one point, Dr. Ember has a big speech about how the evil spirits are some sort of energy parasite and they don't belong to any one religion specifically. Later, he falls back on using a cross against one.

But the biggest drawback in the film is that the fantasy sequences aren't at all scary. A horror film without scares is just a bunch of pointless mumbo jumbo about spirits.

Director Brad Peyton made a name for himself with the 2015 action film San Andreas, which took in just short of $500 million at the box office, despite mixed reviews. Incarnate was announced as being in production in 2013, and may have been sitting on the shelf for a while, as it seems a big step backward.

Producer Jason Blum has made several demonic possession films, including the Insidious series and The Darkness, all of which were a bit off the mark. He has had better luck with the Purge series and the Paranormal Activity series.

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