The devil is not in the details in redundant new exorcism drama
Directed by Brad Peyton
Cast: Aaron Eckhart, David Mazouz, Carice van Houten
If you’re like most people, when you think of the holidays, you think of egg nog, Christmas trees, Santa Claus and demonic possession. ... At least that’s what the folks at Blumhouse Productions were hoping when they decided to release their latest horror film, Incarnate, in the gap between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Blumhouse is the production company behind such cheap-but-successful horror franchises as Insidious, Sinister, The Purge and Paranormal Activity. Basically, the folks at Blumhouse have never met a jump scare they didn’t like. So if America is looking for a cheapjack new exorcism drama to latch on to (you know, besides The Exorcism of Emily Rose, The Last Exorcism, The Last Exorcism Part II, The Rite, The Devil Inside, The Conjuring, Deliver Us From Evil, The Haunting in Connecticut and The Vatican Tapes), Incarnate ... is one of those.
Incarnate focuses on a single mother (the underused Carice van Houten from “Game of Thrones”), who comes to believe her 11-year-old son (David Mazouz, better known as baby Batman in FOX’s “Gotham”) is possessed by a demon. Naturally, the Vatican sends a representative (Colombian actress Catalina Sandino Moreno) to check it out. Realizing the magnitude of this particular possession, she calls on wheelchair-bound scientist Dr. Seth Ember (Aaron Eckhart—not the good one from Erin Brockovich and The Dark Knight, but the cheesy one from I, Frankenstein and Battle Los Angeles). She gives him a briefcase full of cash (yes, that’s a thing that actually happens) and the fight is on.
Ember, you see, is sort of a cross between John Constantine and Dr. Gregory House. He’s a gruff, demon-hunting doctor genius (known here as an “incarnate”). But instead of relying on crosses and Bibles to fight demons, he used good, old-fashioned science. He doesn’t “exorcise” demons, he “evicts” them. Conveniently, Ember has an Inception-like power that allows him to go inside the subconscious minds of his patients while various “CSI”-style punk-nerds stand around and stare at computer monitors shouting numbers. Trust me, it’s all very scientifical. (Did you know, for example, that the human soul is a lot like wi-fi?)
Turns out that the demon in this particular kid’s head goes by the name of “Maggie.” (No, really.) And it’s not just any ordinary demon. Maggie is the same malevolent entity that killed Ember’s family in an auto accident, which led to his being paralyzed. Yup. This time, it’s personal. So Ember uses his psychic super power-cum-computer device doohicky to go inside the kid’s head and kick some demonic ass. For eight minutes at a time. (Don’t ask. It’s a rule.)
The film’s dreamy meanderings all kinda looks like “The Further” sequences from Insidious crossed with The Matrix—with lots of Inception thrown in for good measure. That’s a kind way of saying the whole film is terribly derivative and made up of random scraps of a whole bunch of other movies—right down to the “gosh, where have I seen that before?” ending. Director Brad Peyton (who gave us the similarly terrifying Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore) turns the lighting way down in hopes that the darkness will hide the film’s cheap makeup and hokey scares. A lack of illumination can’t hide the leaden, pseudo-scientific mumbo-jumbo of Ronnie Christensen’s script, however. (He wrote the Halle Berry shark thriller Dark Tide and a handful of other direct-to-video non-starters.) Eckhart spends the entire movie talking in a gruff grumble he seems to have borrowed from his Dark Knight co-star Christian Bale, but it doesn’t help the chintzy cheese of Incarnate seem any more worthy of serious contemplation. Basically, if you’re not a horror movie completist who’s seen every exorcist drama since The Exorcist and is desperate for the slightest variation on the theme, there’s no reason to bother with this hellish waste of time.
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