Studio: BH Tilt
Director: Brad Peyton
Writer: Ronnie Christensen
Producer: Jason Blum, Trevor Engelson, Michael Seitzman
Stars: Aaron Eckhart, Carice van Houten, Catalina Sandino Moreno, David Mazouz, Keir O’Donnell, Matt Nable, Emily Jackson, Tomas Arana
A doctor with the ability to enter a possessed person’s mind fights to save a boy from the same demon that killed his family.
Dr. Seth Ember, because movies like this never give people names like Chauncey Gortimer, isn’t a typical collar and cross exorcist. Ember is an incarnate, a person with the rare ability to enter a possessed person’s mind “Inception”-style and evict a demon like an unwanted tenant.
Seth hasn’t been the same since a car accident took his wife and son while leaving him crippled. “Incarnate” is clear about who this man is. The collective unsubtlety of Ronnie Christensen’s script and Aaron Eckhart’s embodiment combines for characterization summarized in one sequence of a no-nonsense squarejaw doling out terse quips from a whiskey-coated throat, then privately weeping over a photo of his family when the soundtrack swells.
I take back what I said about Chauncey Gortimer since the demon of “Incarnate” has the unlikely name Maggie, not Pazuzu or Azazel, taken from the woman it took over before plowing into Seth’s car. Maggie has had her sights on Seth since his powers awoke. He has in return chased Maggie through her victims’ mindscapes ever since his accident.
Seth’s next shot at settling their score comes when Vatican rep Camilla contracts him to help Cameron. A formerly buoyant boy only 11 years old, coincidentally the same age as Seth’s dead son wouldn’t you know it, Cameron now hosts an evil entity, and Camilla is convinced it is Maggie.
Seth thinks the Catholic Church might be pulling his puppet strings to force participation in their dirty work. He has no further use for faith and his ability is not exclusive to any religion. Seth reasons his wife wore a crucifix and little good it did her, after all.
Seth seeks counsel from Felix. Everything there is to know about Seth’s former mentor is disclosed in the antique store interior decoration of his elegant abode and immediate urge to pour brandy from a decanter while piano keys tinkle in the background.
Felix has what Seth needs to conclude his vendetta against the underworld. From the blood of a possessed fellow incarnate, Felix has developed a serum called C-79, with the C presumably standing for ‘Chekhov’s gun.’ Should Maggie transfer to Seth when he tries banishing her from Cameron, one shot of the serum will give Seth exactly 10 seconds of lucidity to take his own life, and in turn take Maggie with him. With exposition like this, the ending practically (nigh literally) writes itself.
Some flavor is found in this fantastical mind-diving take on an otherwise typical exorcism tale. Then “Incarnate” burns its most creative bits by baking within a plain wrapper that couldn’t be more conventional if it tried. And boy does it try.
“Incarnate” wears the skin of a story that once brimmed with attractive originality before being watered down by so many notes, surrendering to the demanded blandness of meddlesome suits and multiple production companies was the only way to stop the squeezing. How else to explain the three-year span between a 2013 copyright date and 2016 release to cut-and-paste something so rote? Unless using AWOLNATION’s ‘Sail’ as a bookending theme was meant to sound even more dated.
At a purely paper stage, the movie undoubtedly looked much different. Hidden amidst predictable plotting and a rushed runtime of 79 minutes are some misused characters and additional mythology malarkey hinting at something formerly more complex.
Seth doesn’t need even one Guns N’ Roses groupie for an assistant, yet he has two. The difference between them ends at gender and the fact that I don’t recall the woman’s name being mentioned. If not for background-barfing dialogue and flair from their punk rock wardrobes, Oliver and Riley (I had to look it up in the credits) would have nothing exclusive to do.
Seth’s sitdown with Felix also dredges up details about demons infiltrating the incarnates for purposes unknown. That’s the last you’ll hear of whispered conspiracies, however. Once the movie reaches act two, anything not serving an immediate purpose of moving the A plot to the end credits is muddled in a mixture of ideas introduced and then sprayed away.
It’s worth wondering what might have been because “Incarnate” has a few flashes of imagination and a capable cast, even if they are confined by clichés. Alas, the order from on high appears to be putting on a parachute and opening it early so as not to take too big a risk when routine yields the same end result.
“Incarnate” ends up as forgivable filler falling on the fairer side of average because its entertainment value isn’t entirely washed away in its dumbing down. That’s a desirable place for a mid-road movie to be. The other side of that line inspires anger for having misspent 80 minutes and a rental fee. Here, the alternative is simply shrugging “eh” and moving along.
Review Score: 55