Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 31 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Intense Sequences of Horror Violence, Terror, Disturbing Images, brief Strong Language, Sensuality and Thematic Elements
Directed by: Brad Peyton
Written by: Ronnie Christensen
Starring: Aaron Eckhart, Carice van Houten, David Mazouz, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Keir O’Donnell & Matthew Nable
Ever since THE EXORCIST was a major success, demonic possession films have flooded the horror genre. The problem is that most possession movies range from mediocre to absolutely terrible. The screenplays also seem to hit the exact same series of “spooky” notes in…every…single…one of these movies. Props to INCARNATE for attempting to do something different, but sadly this film still remains rather bad.
Seth Ember (Aaron Eckhart) is an exorcist like no other because he doesn’t consider himself to be an exorcist at all and takes an alternate approach to vanquishing demons. Through scientific mumbo jumbo and vague machine contraptions, Seth actually gets inside of the possessed person’s head and “evicts” the demon from their body. Think of INCARNATE as more of an eviction movie than an exorcism movie. Seth’s latest case is preteen Cameron Sparrow (David Mazouz) and it turns out that the demon, named Maggie, has a dark history with Seth. Needless to say, demonic shit soon hits the fan.
INCARNATE deserves praise for daring to deviate from the well-trodden demonic possession and exorcism formula. This film’s premise is essentially THE EXORCIST meets INCEPTION, but the resulting film is not nearly as awesome as that description sounds. The exorcism, I mean “eviction,” scenes are creative and fun to watch. Environments like night clubs, parks, and carnivals become battlegrounds for the possessed person’s soul and that’s kind of neat. The film also takes a few minutes to set up its possession/eviction rules and it never deviates from those one bit. In fact, one of those rules pops up in a big way during a truly awesome moment that felt like it belonged in a far better movie.
INCARNATE’s “eviction” (a.k.a. exorcism) bits are admittedly cool, but everything between those sequences feels like a chore to sit through. Aaron Eckhart puts absolutely zero effort into his performance as the scruffy exorcist, er I mean evictor, and was clearly just here for a quick paycheck (ala I, FRANKENSTEIN). The same can be said of Carice van Houten (who I mainly know as The Red Woman in GAME OF THRONES) who seems more bored than concerned as the possessed boy’s mother. Keir O’Donnell and Emily Jackson play two useless sidekicks who operate the machines, watch monitors and throw in a plot device when required. Meanwhile, David Mazouz is serviceable enough as a creepy possessed kid and does standard creepy possessed kid stuff.
Other than the aforementioned eviction/exorcism bits (which I will keep praising), INCARNATE’s plot disintegrates into a blur mundane mediocrity. The film frequently resorts to sloppily placed clichés and a few convenient plot devices to keep its story moving. A vial of possessed blood becomes a literal plot device and is shamelessly thrown into one scene that’s directly ripped off from THE EXORCIST. The black-eyed “Maggie” (what a lame name for a demon) is also a bland antagonist and her history with Ember is about as predictable as you’d expect from a movie that’s clearly not putting effort into anything other than its exorcism scenes. This being said, I liked the last minute of this film far more than I expected to and it ends on a solid final shot.
INCARNATE injects a couple of drops of much-needed new blood into the demonic possession/exorcism subgenre though a genuinely cool concept and some fun “eviction” sequences. The ending is also enjoyable, even if one key moment was ripped off from the most popular exorcism movie of all-time. Unfortunately, lazy writing and even lazier performances knock the film’s overall quality down considerably. The eviction scenes are easily the film’s best moments, but everything else ranges through varying shades of mediocrity and badness. At the end of the day, you could do far worse in the realm of exorcist films than INCARNATE, but that doesn’t make INCARNATE worth a watch.