I’ll say it – Incarnate is what happens when you merge Inception with The Exorcist. It makes for an intriguing premise, reviving the tired genre, but presented a lot of missed opportunities in this film.
Dr. Seth Ember (Aaron Eckhart) is gifted with the ability of going into the minds of the possessed. That is, when he places his body in a condition near-death himself. And what happens when he does?
The theory is that a demon possesses a victim by holding them in an alternate reality in their minds, by tapping into their deepest desires. As long as the victim continues to live out the “dream”, they continue to be possessed in real life.
Ember evicts the demons by trying to pull the victims out of their fantasy, using hard facts and pointing out discrepancies about the demon’s behaviour, who masquerades as loved ones, in order to loosen the hold. This strangely always ends up with a coloured door and having to jump through a window for some reason.
At the bequest of a Vatican representative (Catalina Sandino Moreno), he pushes his weary body to investigate the latest possession – an 11-year-old boy (David Mazouz). His reason? The entity within him might be an archdemon that has been taunting Ember, and killed his wife and son in an accident many years ago.
Brad Peyton directs this with restraint, but not in the good way. Incarnate feels empty, with more questions than spirits lingering in the shadows. There are quite a few key elements that are underdeveloped – the serum that brings Ember back to lucidity, the reason why the boy was unrestrained, and ultimately, who is that archdemon? All these story points are brought in, yet we are left with no literature to explain what they meant – and so do not gain a sense of gravity for each. Not every person might know that an archdemon is of a higher hierarchy just by mention. The lack of background details thin out the proceedings, and unfortunately, affects the total emotional investment in this film.
Eckhart’s acting is formidable. He plays a good anchor character to pivot the story around, but truth be told, the anguished father with a vengeance is a little old. I couldn’t get past Carice (Melissandre) van Houten, who plays the hapless mother of the boy. Her Game of Thrones character is just too strong to shed, and eventually, lends no real warmth to her character. She would have benefited from being a little less composed. And maybe they could have at least bleached her hair blonde?
The other supporting characters didn’t fare much better. The doctor’s assistants are your typical geek freaks with a heart, with expected reactions and one-liner, and given the unfortunate task of a little comic relief. Felix (Tomas Arana) is the mentor with a den full of curiosities and possessed captive, who also winds up with only a few foreboding advice – that we know of course will unfold.
All things aside, you might at least have a good victim in the form of the innocent possessed boy. But all you get is your standard demon voice, taunting the usual spiel, and doing two acts of levitation – that’s it, show’s over folks. Although there are genuine moments of tension as Ember tries to free the boy from the demon’s clutches, it seems like a waste when the execution turns out so detached and uncommitted with the universe that they have come up with. Guess it’ll still be a while before a good exorcism movie comes about.
Eckhart pulls off a convincing exorcist renegade but the writing weakens the universe and leaves us uninvested in the story. A shame.
The film is currently showing at all major cinemas.
First published: www.moviexclusive.com