SOME 'THING' ON YOUR MIND

INCARNATE (15)

Director: Brad Peyton

Screenplay: Ronnie Christensen

Starring: Aaron Eckhart, Carice van Houten, Catalina Sandino Moreno

Review: David Stephens

Other people’s minds are scary. If you could peek into the innermost thoughts and fantasies of your friend or partner, it’s a sure thing that most relationships would break up. It’s no surprise that this concept has fed into so many films and stories. From the dream invasions of “Inception” and “Dreamscape” (1984), to the psychic links portrayed in “The Cell” (2000). And of course there’s “Elm Street” and all other similarly-themed horrors. So the idea of a movie crossing that sub-genre with that of possession and exorcism sound like a mouth-dribbling prospect, marrying science with the demonic. Especially when you figure in that it stars Aaron Eckhart from “The Dark Knight” (*crowds cheer and throw flowers*) and “I, Frankenstein” (*crowds boo and throw rotten fruit*), as well as Carice van Houten from “Game of Thrones” and “Black Death”. Directed by Brad Peyton who made the disaster-fest “San Andreas” (and currently filming video game inspired monster-fest “Rampage”), “Incarnate” is another Blumhouse production that got a substantial theatrical US release in December of last year. However in the UK it has only just got a DVD premiere, and is available on the same disc as the original theatrical cut or an “extended/unrated” version. So YGROY finally intends to inspect the insidious inception of this inaugural and inauspicious presentation for our own indisputable personal indiscretions. Look, we just watched the film, okay?

 

It starts with single Mom Lindsay Sparrow (Van Houten) taking her 11 year old boy Cameron (David Mazouz) home to their inner-city apartment. Cameron is momentarily distracted by a growling vagrant, who later confronts him in his own kitchen, and seemingly changes him somehow. Enter Dr Seth Ember (Eckhart), slo-mo swaggering into a lively night-club accompanied by Awolnation’s “Sail”, and with that name and that music you just know he’s a badass. Only … it’s not a night-club. He is in fact in the subconscious of a demonically- possessed lawyer and is trying to save him. (“Wake up buddy. We’re in your head”). He barely accomplishes this and is helped by his two assistants to recover. In actuality Ember is a physically frail and paralysed character, who can project himself into the minds of “possessed” victims, aiding freedom from internal fantasy worlds where “demons” have imprisoned their personalities, so they can have unopposed control of their bodies. But Ember distances himself from religion, the “demons” are merely entities that have been objectified by various beliefs, and he relies on science to combat them. He’s also searching for the “arch-demon” called “Maggie”, who crippled him and caused a personal tragedy years earlier. And wouldn’t you know it? It looks like the entity that has just possessed Cameron goes by that very name…

 

“Incarnate” didn’t exactly set the box-office on fire in the States, nor did it signify the usual possibility of a follow-up or franchise. And sadly, it’s not hard to see why. Whilst not entirely original, the central premise of “exorcism” being stripped away from its religious origins and visualising the soul-saving aspect on a different level, is a strong idea and could have been a great basis for a rollercoaster genre thriller. However, due to a variety of reasons that was not to be, and it ultimately becomes a very unsatisfying experience.

 

If we look at the core concepts first, rather than becoming a neat combination of “The Exorcist” and “Inception”, it’s actually more like a mixture of “Dreamscape” (does anybody else remember that apart from us?) and “The Matrix”, with a few knowing nod towards the possession sub-genre. In fact, one character even uses the term “Glitches” when describing the world inside the victim’s heads. The rules are pretty vague when Ember does his thang as well. When he does a “dive” (enters the mind) and performs an “eviction” (ejects the entity), some things affect him physically, and some don’t. He’s able to apparently manifest/visualise some objects into other minds, so why not take a machine-gun? Why do the entities passively allow him to do it, rather than just smiting him in real life? And disappointingly the fantasy-worlds depicted boil down to a night-club, a park, and a fun-fair. We know it’s probably a case of budget, but blimey … is that the best they could come up with? And then climatic battles seem to involve just fist fights rather than something more intense.

 

The cast aren’t utilised to their best either. Eckhart is doing his growly monotone schtick from “I, Frankenstein” again, except this time he’s trundling around in a wheelchair like a demon-obsessed “Ironside”. He can still beat up people in a bar-fight though, as one ludicrous scene shows. He’s so much better than this, but emotional moments are skirted over with generic montages and it’s difficult to warm to him. Van Houten is also given absolutely no opportunity to display her usual charisma or depth, in a very thinly characterised role. The only cast member who does make a mark is Mazouz, who gives another mature performance both in his “kid” and “demonic” interpretation of “Cameron”. In fact, you want to see more of him in his red-eyed state as he nails the creepy kid aspect.


Mind you, they’re not helped by having to spout some dialogue that seems to have been cut-and-pasted from a bad action movie or video game. Lines like; “In order to avoid a fate worse than death … you must choose death instead”, or the reprehensible “A piece of holy cloth won’t cut it this time”, just scrape their audio fingernails across your mental blackboard.

And Ember is a rogue character who refuses to “clock in for the Vatican”! To be honest, we could quote a dozen bad lines, but that would be cruel and out of context. Even so, films should be banned from using the chestnut of “There’s something you’re not telling me” from now on.

 

If there was a bit more style and imagination on show, most of this would be a fun-ride. But it’s so damned predictable in places. A certain plot development and “twist” is so transparent at one point that you’re tempted to fast-forward the whole sequence because you know what’s coming. In a more extreme example, the denouement really makes you want to punch yourself in the face due to its dumbness… or maybe that’s just us. There’s also a drug that might as well be called “Deus Ex Machina”, and rather cynically echoes an important sentiment from “The Exorcist”. In fact when one character expresses a fear of heights, you half expect the next scene to show him dangling from the tip of a skyscraper, and when this doesn’t happen it’s probably the biggest surprise in the plot.

 

It may well seem mean-spirited, pointing out all the elements that failed here. But it seems a shame that such an engaging premise and solid cast were not used to their potential. When somebody mentions “green vomit and head-turning”, you pine for it, because the film just isn’t scary in the slightest. The unrated version has a touch more grit and gore, but it’s not enough. Incarnate? Unfortunate.

 

DVD Extras: The inclusion of an “unrated” version, which supplements it’s running time by a few seconds with multiple f-bombs and some very quick additional gore. There’s also a 7 minute feature; “The Making of Incarnate” with the usual brief cast interviews.

Given the subject matter, this is ironically soulless and disappointing. The cast are wasted and given some horrible lines of dialogue, and the plot just doesn’t hold together or fulfil its promise. There are intriguing concepts in there, but they’re not allowed to develop into anything substantial in the generic narrative or predictable sequences. Incar-Not!
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