Studio: Void Pictures
Director: Filip Kovacevic
Writer: Filip Kovacevic, Masa Senicic, Ivan Stancic
Producer: Filip Kovacevic
Stars: Stojan Djordjevic, Daca Vidosavljevic, Sten Zendor, Vidan Dojcinovic, Bogdan Petrovic, Tihomir Stanic, Dejan Cicmilovic, Zarko Stepanov
A man with no memory of his identity is caught in a recurring loop where he is pursued and murdered by four masked assassins.
Serbian mystery-thriller “Incarnation” can be spoiled easily. Not by revealing the ending, but by revealing the ending isn’t the revelatory missing link you desperately want it to be.
A man with no memory of his identity and an inability to see his reflection is caught in a recurring nightmare. He wakes on a park bench in a crowded public square and is promptly pursued by four masked assassins before being shot in the head. The man doesn’t die. He merely wakes back on the bench to relive the chase and his execution, again and again and again.
Four streets intersect at the fountain in front of the bench. With every replay of events, the man realizes he has more than one option of where he can run. Each direction holds a critical clue and if the man can figure out how all of them piece together, he might find a way to close the loop, and finally stop taking bullets to his brain.
Who is this man? What happened to his memory? Where do the assassins come from? Why is he their target? How is it possible to repeat the same series of events no matter how many times he dies?
These are only a handful of questions inspired by the imagination as “Incarnation” races through scenes fueled by stylized suspense, flashy action, and mind-bending mysteries of flashbacks and flashforwards. Some, though definitely not all, the movie actually has answers for. “Incarnation” is “Memento” meets “Groundhog Day” by way of “Jason Bourne” and “Lost.” It’s just that last influence gumming up the gears that gets in the way of something grander. A third act of ambiguity and unsatisfying resolutions sees an exhilarating sprint ending at finish line tape that doesn’t crisply snap so much as it listlessly falls to the ground.
“Incarnation” is tightly packed, figuratively and literally. The public square is an ingenious setting for a limited funds production looking for a controlled location whose regular reuse is motivated by story. Pedestrian walkways give way to fast-moving corridor chases of flying feet and furious gunplay keeping energy high and intensity higher. Atmosphere can be so charged it’s a wonder why a number of passersby are completely unfazed by the gunfire and screams echoing off beautiful buildings nearby.
The puzzling premise hits with its hook from the very first cycle and that sharp point digs deeper as a cryptic conspiracy unfolds. Additional personalities poke into the plot. Backstory breadcrumbs birth new possibilities. Curious clues like sequential numbers and seemingly plain stones introduce intrigue at intervals that keep mental wheels spinning with wonder at where it all leads.
“Incarnation” has all the right bait on its lure, yet when it comes time to reel, the line sags with uncertainty over how hard to pull. Watching “Incarnation” really does recall a condensed experience of seeing TV’s “Lost” progress from first season to last. The start is powerfully promising and stays there as new building blocks expand the mystery beyond initial predictability. Unable to anticipate all outcomes, your mind concedes trust that creators have control in their hands. Then starts suspicion the endgame is unfinished. And when all is at last exposed, an unimpressive conclusion cheats the setup out of a great payoff, and viewers out of complete compensation.
Aside from a few underwhelming digital effects like blood spray standing still while the paper it is on flaps in a breeze, the film looks fantastic. Filip Kovacevic’s direction stages pacing with quick-cut precision and with co-writers Masa Senicic and Ivan Stancic, he puts together two-thirds of a compelling suspense-thriller accented by breathless action. Had the last act twists and eventual explanation maintained the concept’s out-of-the-gate grip, then the takeaway could be how much “Incarnation” does well, instead of how it leaves a final taste tainted by disappointment.
NOTE: The film’s Serbian title is “Inkarnacija.”
Review Score: 65