The best faint praise I can give Brad Peyton’s Incarnate is that it comes from a place of mostly trying. The exorcism subgenre of horror movie, like so many other subgenres in this day and age of filmmaking, isn’t exactly teeming with new ideas. Director Peyton (San Andreas) isn’t the most cerebral of directors (yes, I say this about the man who helmed Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore (2010)) but with screenwriter Ronnie Christensen, there’s an attempt at something at least out of the ordinary with Incarnate.
The idea, unfortunately, is more goofy than good, the kind of concept that works better on paper than it ever does in its fully realized form. You see, they’ve taken The Exorcist and cross-pollinated it with Christopher Nolan’s Inception (2010) — and that’s more or less the pitch. The problem is that the movie has none of the prerequisites (money, budget, smarts) to pull this kind of project off, instead it wallows in bad special effects and even poorer lighting. The lighting is, unfortunately, not quite bad enough to hide the bad scruffy wig that Aaron Eckhart wears as Dr. Seth Ember, secular exorcist. You see, Ember is wheelchair-bound, sports a perpetual five o’clock shadow and a tattered mane of hair and uses supremely unorthodox methods (entering the minds of the demonically possessed) to evict evil spirits. When an arch demon takes over the body and mind of a young boy named Cameron (David Mazouz), Ember is called in to handle business.
As a concept, this is fine, and Peyton and Christensen spend a lot of time building the film’s internal logic and the limitations of Ember’s specific talents. But beyond these basic ideas, the film itself doesn’t quite have the style or imagination one really wants from a movie like this. Ember’s journeys into Cameron’s mind aren’t specifically stylish or fascinating, meaning that any chances of Incarnate being truly genre-breaking is lost. The best it can hope for is a status as a horror genre curio.
Much of this is due to a lack of true foresight (or really any vision at all) once you get beyond the world building. Once inside the possesseds’ heads, Ember usually falls back on fisticuffs, while the budget and the PG-13 rating don’t lend themselves to out-and-out horror. The scares are pretty nonexistent, never getting past fits of violence and color contact lenses to denote those afflicted with demons. Eckhart is a professional as he does his best to make his way through all this nonsense, but all this does is highlight how much a waste of time, money and talent Incarnate is. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of horror violence, terror, disturbing images, brief strong language, sensuality and thematic elements.
Now Playing at Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande and UA Beaucatcher.