Yeah! religion and science, bitches! Aaron Eckhart, Carice van Houten, David Mazouz and Keir O’Donnell star in Incarnate.
Cast of Characters:
Dr. Seth Ember – Aaron Eckhart
Lindsay – Carice van Houten
Camilla – Catalina Sandino Moreno
Cameron – David Mazouz
Oliver – Keir O’Donnell
Dan – Matt Nable
Henry – John Pirruccello
Director – Brad Peyton
Screenplay – Ronnie Christensen
Producer – Jason Blum, Trevor Engelson & Michael Seitzman
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of horror violence, terror, disturbing images, brief strong language, sensuality and thematic elements
Dr. Seth Ember (Aaron Eckhart) is not your everyday, ordinary exorcist. Rather than focus on screaming Bible verses and throwing religious trinkets at demonic entities, Ember uses scientific methods to enter the victim’s subconscious and expel what he terms as a “parasite”.
Jesse Pinkman would be so proud.
One day, Ember’s approached by a representative from the Vatican, Camilla (Catalina Sandino Moreno), who shows up with a briefcase full of money and an offer… or bribe, depending on how cynical you are. An 11-year-old boy, Cameron (David Mazouz), has been possessed by a demon and even though Camilla tells Dr. Ember that the child will die in no more than three days, he has absolutely no interest in partnering up with the Vatican. But Camilla has an ace in the hole, and that is she is convinced this particular demon that has overtaken Cameron’s soul is none other than “Maggie”, the powerful minion of the Devil that has tormented Dr. Ember since the day he lost his wife and child. Longing for revenge, Ember accepts the offer and gathers his team in order to take on this demon and save Cameron’s life.
One only has to look at Gotham’s David Mazouz to realize Incarnate has been collecting dust inside Jason Blum’s studio for some time now. Take a look at the TV show where he plays a young Bruce Wayne and the possessed child he plays in this film, and it’s like there’s a five year difference between the two. The fact that Aaron Eckhart was cast all the way back in 2013 is also a good indicator. Now, delayed releases don’t typically mean your film’s a guaranteed failure. Sure, you have cases like Jupiter Ascending and Seventh Son, but The Good Dinosaur is an example of a film that had its release delayed and still wound up being pretty good.
I could ramble on some more, but why bother? Let’s cut to the chase. Incarnate is NOT The Good Dinosaur.
It’s really difficult to do an exorcism film because it’s almost impossible to do one that doesn’t in some way get compared to the Godfather of all exorcism films, The Exorcist, and I guarantee you at some point during this review I will most likely make said comparisons. There are a few exceptions here and there. The Exorcism of Emily Rose, starring Laura Linney and Tom Wilkinson, is a criminally underrated film. The found-footage flick The Last Exorcism provided a clever spin on the genre – a fauxmentary about a shyster minister who stages fake exorcisms, only to get unwittingly caught up in an actual exorcism he didn’t expect. And while I will never make a case that the Jeffrey Dean Morgan vehicle The Possession is on par with The Exorcist, or even The Exorcism of Emily Rose, it still provided more effective thrills and chills than most bargain bin possession films are able to do.
The problem Incarnate suffers from is that is that it’s so incredibly dull. Many of those aforementioned bargain bin possession films rely solely on jump scares, and I’ve certainly ripped them a new hole for resorting to such cheap, lazy tactics. This film, however, is so exhaustingly boring I would’ve killed for just one – just one jump scare. Of course, I shouldn’t expect much from writer Ronnie Christensen, whose resume includes the made-for-TV, cheap CGI littered earthquake thriller 10.5, or from Brad Peyton, the director of Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore. In fairness to Peyton, though, he did direct last year’s decently entertaining San Andreas (which made enough money to convince Warner Bros. a highly unnecessary sequel was worth greenlighting), which makes me wonder why he couldn’t at least infuse a few decent scares. Or at the very least, something good enough to generate the moviegoers’ pulse back to life.
Christensen attempts to break the mold from all the copycats that followed The Exorcist, but his ideas are half-baked at best. It’s clear, given his strong rejection of the Catholic Church, that Eckhart’s Dr. Ember suffers from a crisis of faith that stems from a personal tragedy, but the film never delves any deeper into those issues beyond Ember ranting, “I don’t clock in for the Vatican!”. Not that I’m expecting Father Karras (See? Just like I told you.), but even just a little bit of character depth wouldn’t have hurt. Any insight into Ember’s unorthodox, albeit intriguing, exorcism (or as he calls them, “evictions”) methods are reduced to a couple throwaway “explanation” sentences by his two teammates. Christensen’s script is further burdened by a series of one-dimensional subplots including Cameron’s deadbeat, absentee dad and some serum derived from the blood of another possessed victim that apparently is supposed to give you clarity inside the victim’s subconscious when the shit really hits the fan.
Who knows? Who cares? I stopped caring about halfway through, and judging from the lack of effort in both character and story, it’s evident that Christensen stopped caring too.
Come the third-act, Peyton, realizing he only has about 80 total minutes to work with, kicks everything into gear and rushes through a highly anti-climactic showdown between Dr. Ember and his demonic arch-rival Maggie. For a demon that has plagued this man’s heart, soul and mind for who knows how many years, you’d expect something more than just a quick chase through a carnival hall of mirrors (yes, ’cause that hasn’t been done enough in horror films). Don’t worry, though. When Peyton once again realizes he’s now rushed through his climactic showdown after slogging it through the first two acts, he makes things up by padding the rest of the run-time with so many false endings, it makes The Return of the King look like a web series short.
I haven’t even gotten to the countless number of rules Christensen sets up in his story and then breaks in five minutes, as if either he or every character of his suffers from severe Alzheimer’s, but at this point – eh – whatever.
What’s really disappointing is Aaron Eckhart, London Has Fallen notwithstanding, had just recently given us two fantastic performances this fall. First in Clint Eastwood’s Sully opposite Tom Hanks, and then recently in the Miles Teller led Bleed for This, which not only was a great performance, it deserves Best Supporting Actor recognition. In both of those films, Eckhart took two supporting roles that could’ve been just one-note, cliché turns (the co-pilot and boxing trainer, respectively) and turned them into something special, something that reminded us that he’s truly a talent that doesn’t need these forgettable paycheck films. Sure, he does what he can with this role, which is respectable and certainly a lot more than we’ve seen say Bruce Willis do when slumming it for a paycheck. But as I, Frankenstein proved, that only goes so far when there’s so little to work with.
Amongst the supporting cast, I can’t imagine Carice van Houten (Game of Thrones) and Oscar nominee Catalina Sandino Moreno (Maria Full of Grace) didn’t receive any offers that were even slightly better than this. They certainly deserve better. As Eckhart’s two teammates, Keir O’Donnell (who will forever in my mind be Christopher Walken’s creepy gay son who tried to force himself on Vince Vaughn in Wedding Crashers) and Emily Jackson don’t get much to do aside from being the comic relief and eye candy, respectively (Jackson has the eye candy down, but the script does O’Donnell no favors). David Mazouz acquits himself fine with an effective display of the creepy possessed kid stare, though a good portion of his performance is nothing more than that and lip-synching to a demonic voiced overdub.
Despite Aaron Eckhart’s efforts, Incarnate is a thrill-less, scare-less, and lifeless stab at the horror/exorcism genre, one that attempts to bring something new and modern to the table, yet doesn’t bother to go beyond the surface of the ideas director Brad Peyton and writer Ronnie Christensen are trying to present. It should only take about halfway through the film for you to understand why it sat so long on the studio shelf. Come the end credits you’ll be left wondering why they didn’t just leave it there.
I give Incarnate a D- (½★).