Studio: Uncork’d Entertainment
Director: Mario Sorrenti
Writer: Marcello Ochoa, Mario Miscione
Producer: Harald Kloser, Marcella Ochoa
Stars: Thomas Kretschmann, Nadine Velazquez, Josh Stewart, Chris Coy, Matt Munroe, Jake Vaughn, Nelli Jimenez, Cassandra Clark, Bex Taylor-Klaus
A supernatural creature stalks a team of scientists testing a hallucinatory drug capable of opening dimensional doorways.
“Discarnate” director Mario Sorrenti has a distinguished background in film, just not of the narrative feature variety. Predominantly a fashion photographer, Sorrenti’s print work has appeared in publications like Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and Vanity Fair. High profile clients include Calvin Klein, Hugo Boss, and Estee Lauder. His spreads feature celebrities such as Scarlett Johansson, Charlize Theron, and Tom Cruise.
I’m willing to risk sounding pretentiously judgmental by saying, “Discarnate” comes across as the kind of dreamily discombobulated indie horror movie you might imagine could only come from the vision of an Italian fashion photographer. The movie is “weird,” which is a word you’ll see repeated frequently throughout this review. And I don’t mean “weird” like far out nightmare logic “weird” or David Lynch-like auteur artistry “weird.” “Discarnate” just seems slightly “off” in an irregular way that cannot be precisely pinpointed.
Sorrenti’s unusual eye might not be the sole source of oddness. Exact details of involvement were murky, but co-producer John Elfers appeared at “Discarnate’s” Screamfest screening Q&A to discuss how he directed a significant amount of pick-ups. Actor Mick Ignis was also on hand to talk about taking over for Olivier De Sagazan as the creature performer. Maybe I’m drawing conclusions, but I got the sense that more than one creative disconnect came up over the course of filming and producers seemingly sought solutions outside of Sorrenti to plug the gaps. Multiple cooks in the kitchen could offer another explanation for the funky feel.
The film starts with neuroscientist Dr. Andre Mason losing his son Benny to a supernatural entity. “Discarnate” then jumps to a ’10 Years Later’ prelude cut like a trailer, to the point where I half-wondered if a preview was running by mistake for a split second.
Edits rip right through expository dialogue as though only every other sentence is included. This sequence hurriedly establishes Andre’s search for rare botanical compounds only Maya Sanchez can provide. Maya prepares a hallucinatory tea for Andre that has him seeing ghosts like Maya’s dead sister Isabel. Andre is sold. He wants Maya’s herbs for a serum he thinks could open a dimensional doorway to glimpsing the afterlife.
“Discarnate” next goes from skipping dialogue to skipping entire scenes. Superimposed over a sudden travel montage, three full screens of text explain that during the following months, Andre received funding from a research institute to conduct an experimental trial for his serum. Maya agreed to provide her compounds on the condition she could participate in the program. Now Andre’s team of scientists who look more like hipster baristas is off to get the drug study underway. What a weird way to catch an audience up on several weeks’ worth of exposition for a movie already in progress.
The crew sets up shop in an abandoned house that belonged to a silent movie actor in the Orange Heights area of Sierra Madre, CA. None of those details are important, yet the movie tells us anyway. Intertitles also identify ‘Trial Day 1’ and ‘Trial Day 2,’ yet no other days, because I guess someone thought distinguishing those two particular 24-hour periods was necessary for some reason.
Weird camera shots with unmotivated movements and an ADD music video rhythm initially put an experimental arthouse overlay onto a movie that basically becomes a typical thriller. After its artistically disjointed first act, “Discarnate” calms down considerably to follow a sensibly standardized “Flatliners” template.
Although the shift into typical territory where Andre’s Moby Dick monster haunts the team has a patina of predictability, it’s easier to gulp down because of “Discarnate’s” excellent actors. Thomas Kretschmann gives Andre gravitas. Bex Taylor-Klaus of the “Scream” TV series and Josh Stewart of “The Collector,” among other things for both of them, are favorites of many genre fans. Chris Coy puts as much personality into his part as he does on David Simon projects like “Treme” and “The Deuce.” And Matt Munroe provides personable comic relief without being obnoxiously inauthentic about it.
Perhaps feeling a bizarre bookend is in order to remind viewers of how weird it was at the outset, the movie ends almost as peculiarly as it began. I’m clearly criticizing “Discarnate” for its clumsiness. But Devil’s Advocate argues, even if it isn’t intentional or ideal, at least “Discarnate’s” weirdness makes it distinct among a subgenre full of similar stories.
Initially intriguing mostly as a curiosity, the onscreen talent molds ordinary midsection material into enjoyable performances that make “Discarnate” worthwhile. I wouldn’t necessarily use “good” to describe the film or its objective entertainment value. Yet given the caliber of its cast, cool creature, and alluringly atypical texture, “Discarnate” rarely fails to hold your attention in a vague “WTF?” way.
Review Score: 60