Incarnate and all the images you see in this review are owned by Blumhouse Tilt, High Top Releasing, and Universal Pictures
Directed by Brad Peyton
I go to see a lot of movies, and I don’t think I saw a single trailer for this at any of them; not even other horror films or Blumhouse productions. That seems pretty strange though considering they’ve got a well-known actor in here with Aaron Eckhart who may not be quite A list, but should be enough to sell a movie like this, and yet it seems to have slipped completely under the radar. That’s usually a bad sign, but it’s not always the case as films like last year’s We Are Your Friends was a movie I never heard of until I went to the theater to see it, and that turned out to be pretty solid; especially compared to other Zac Effron outings like Dirty Grandpa and Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates. Maybe the same is true for this little horror flick. I mean… it’s possible… right? Either way, let’s find out!!
The movie begins as most demon possession movies do with a young child getting his soul hijacked from some horrifying hell spawn with the victim here being Cameron (David Mazouz) who seems to catch it from this homeless woman as the demons here apparently jump from host to host. Naturally, the Vatican is all over this and sends out one of their representatives (Catalina Sandino Moreno) to keep an eye on things, but it soon becomes clear that conventional methods are gonna take care of it this time. Instead, she calls upon… Dr. Seth Ember (Aaron Eckhart)! Who is he? Well he’s some guy who looks to have watched Inception a few too many times and has come up with a new exorcism technique where he goes into the mind of those possessed and convince their subconscious or whatever to reject the monster that is feeding off of their soul. Of course, Dr. Ember isn’t some bright eyed idealist who’s doing this for the good of mankind! He has a DARK PAST full of TRAGEDY and WOE, and the techniques he’s developed were all in service of killing ONE DEMON SPECIFICALLY who has something to do with said tragic past. Of course, it JUST SO HAPPENS (or maybe not?) that the kid is being possessed by that ONE SPECIFIC DEMON, so Dr. Ember begrudgingly takes the case along with his two hipster tech brats Riley and Oliver (Emily Jackson and Keir O’Donnell). Will Dr. Ember finally gets the vengeance that has eluded him all these years? Will he be able to save Cameron in the process, or will Ember see him as expendable in the pursuit of a greater goal? What… exactly did I just sit though?
Now I didn’t love EVERY horror film that came out this year, but even the ones that I outright hated like Blair Witch were at least competently done which is SO much more than I can say for this Z-grade possession movie which is easily the worst horror movie of the year. Hell, this isn’t even worthy of being called horror because, outside of the first five minutes, there’s nothing in here that evokes a sense of tension or fear; not just because it fails to deliver on scares, but because it doesn’t know what tone it wants to go for from scene to scene and therefore doesn’t even know how to the film correctly, and yet it struts around like the cock of walk; checking off homages and references to better movies like Evil Dead and The Exorcist with no appreciation for WHY those worked as well as they did. This is an artless, half-baked, and cynically produced embarrassment for everyone involved, and you know what the worst of it is? This movie is so bad that it makes I, Frankenstein look like a masterpiece. How did they even do that!?
The problems with this movie are evident as soon as the opening scene is over and we get to meet this so called doctor and how he exorcises demons by ripping off Inception; then again, Paprika is probably the better comparison here. What could have been a fantastic premise to bring a new twist to the demon possession genre turns out to be an overly convoluted wasted of energy as the methods employed by Dr. Ember don’t end up differing in any significant way from every other movie like this (oh look; Holy Symbols and pissing the demon off still works here) despite how much they try to convince you otherwise. Not only that, but they do such a poor job explaining this technique that you’re never sure exactly what he can do and how he can do it. Compare this to the two other movies that I just mentioned. With Inception, they spend a solid thirty to forty minutes making sure you understand the concepts they are working with and the rules the film needs to follow so that when we get to the meat of the story, it’s all the more enjoyable and easy to follow. In Paprika, they basically go the opposite route with much looser concepts, but the film compensates for this by operating much more strongly on dream logic; freeing it up to indulge in fantastic visuals and focus more on the characters. This does neither as the film wants everything to make sense by over explaining how everything work and filling in lots of background for the world, but then hand waves other vital details and fails to capitalize in any meaningful way what they expended so much effort to establish. They have all this science equipment, people are bashing away at keyboards, they’ve got this crazy explanation that a “soul” is just a collection of unique ions that surround a person… and then it turns out that Arron Eckhart is just psychic which is why all this is possible; a revelation that is tossed out in an offhanded comment extremely late in the film. WHAT!?
It’s shit like this throughout the entire movie. Everything about this world feels like they expect us to already know what the hell is going on as if all this is standard fair for exorcism movies. We spend ten minutes setting up the Chekhov’s Gun of the movie, yet they never bother to tell us why this priest who’s giving it to Dr. Ember lives in a warehouse with the tackiest interior design job imaginable. The Vatican is a constant presence throughout the movie, but it’s not clear whether it’s the Vatican as WE know it that is secretly fighting ACTUAL demons or this is some alternate reality where demon possession is a fact of life like getting the flu, and they have increased power and influence because they know how to fight them. This kind of stuff wouldn’t need explanation if the movie didn’t keep bringing them up, and it’s so wildly unnecessary in order to tell such a simple story (most of it take place in a single apartment) which makes it fell like a shitty pilot they retrofitted to be an even shittier movie; complete with a tragic backstory for our curmudgeonly hero who also has a crack pair of quirky assistants that may just melt his icy heart by the end of the season!
Speaking of the curmudgeonly bastard, Arron Eckhart is criminally wasted here as his character is one of the most boringly one dimensional assholes I’ve seen since… well since I, Frankenstein. Look, I can understand why he would want to do movies LIKE this that allow him to be a badass mo-fo in fantastical settings, but the guy needs to actually READ the scripts first because this one is doing him no favors and frankly makes him look like a total amateur. He has one speed this entire movie and that’s being a big ol’ grump about everything which is really boring to watch play out; especially considering he doesn’t really have any redeeming qualities to counteract that. He’s Sherlock Holmes, Dr. House, and Tony Stark without the skills or even the witty repartee to back it up and his TRAGIC BACKSTORYTM isn’t enough to compensate for how miserable it is to watch him on screen. He’s bad tempered, needlessly mean spirited, and not even that good at what he does considering what ends up happening in the movie. Still, as one dimensionally uninspired as he is, he at least has a sense of personality to him which is more than everyone else in here who exist for exposition and that’s about it. The kid, his mother (Carice van Houten), the Vatican representative, even the two poorly dressed assistants don’t have any dialogue that provides even the slightest bit insight into who they are because they’re too busy telling us what the hell is going on. The only one who’s at least TRYING here is the abusive dad who’s one big cliché, but Matt Nable manages to give at least SOME emotional range to his performance as he’s the typical angry bastard father who does feel bad about what he’s missing out on and gets to show some of that here. That’s right. The most interesting and well developed character in here is a hackneyed domestic abuser archetype.
Now I could rail about how poorly written and structured this script is for hours, but none of that is really what people are there to see. I mean, it’s what they SHOULD be going to see as a solid script and excellent characters are what make the good demon possession movies so memorable, but what many are going to this to see are the exorcism scenes, so how are those in here? Yeah, those are almost as bad as everything else in here and only escape being JUST as bad because the gimmick allows for a bit more momentum and creativity to work its way into this boring slog. Now they aren’t enough to SAVE the movie and are honesty quite lousy, but even with that they still manage to stand out when compared to everything else here. Like I said, the premise here is solid where Aaron Eckhart has to delve into people’s minds to walk them out of the dream like scenario the demon has trapped them in, but the actual execution here is just cheap and uninspired. There are no fantastical elements to it or even anything all that exciting as he really just has to go in there, find the person who’s being possessed, and talk to him for five minutes before they pretty much just leave. Sure, Aaron Eckhart will throw a punch or two, but there isn’t enough action to carry these scenes on that alone, and the dialogue as Aaron Eckhart tries to convince them that they are in a dream is just uninspired and utilitarian. It’s so… basic and never really takes advantage of the fact that they’re in a dream; leaving us all to wonder what the hell the point is when he could just be talking to them in the real world if that’s all they need to get the demon out.
In a year that’s been THIS good for horror films, this is an absolute embarrassment for Blumhouse who really needs to reign in the quality control at some point. Look, I’m glad they don’t go bankrupt by putting all their eggs in one basket, but at some point they need to stop saying yes to every awful idea they get in the hopes that, no matter how terrible the movie is, it’s either gonna make its budget back or somehow be a surprise financial hit. It’s not only gonna start damaging their brand at some point, but it also means that promising properties like Jem and the Holograms are treated like disposable cash-ins; destroying any hopes for someone who ACTUALLY gives a shit to do something better with it. This is easily the worst film I’ve seen from them since Jem and the Holograms, and you should stay the fuck away from it at all costs. Seriously Aaron Eckhart, I want to keep liking you! STOP MAKING SHITTY MOVIES LIKE THIS!!
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