Review of “Incarnate”

There are few things that signal a movie in which the studio has no faith than its release date. Any movie released in the first few weeks of January is probably not very good and isn’t expected to make much money. Labor Day weekend is also a bit of a dumping ground. Plus movies released in an incompatible season; for instance, films where a holiday is prominently featured but its release date is nowhere near that holiday. To a lesser extent, scary movies that come out near Christmas tend to be really, really bad. That’s what I expected when the only movie in wide release the weekend of December 2, 2016 was “Incarnate” and I wasn’t all that excited about seeing it. It may not be great but it surprised me.

An 11-year old boy named Cameron (David Mazouz) hears a noise in his kitchen late one night. Walking through the apartment he shares with his recently divorced mother Lindsey (Carice van Houten), Cameron winds up in the kitchen where he notices dirty footprints on the floor and hears a hissing sound coming from the ceiling. Looking up, Cameron sees a homeless woman he noticed earlier outside his building is floating above him. The woman falls from the ceiling and attacks Cameron. The woman is possessed by an evil spirit and it transfers from the woman to Cameron. When the transfer is complete, Cameron snaps the woman’s neck. After an attempt by the Catholic Church to exercise the demon fails, the Vatican sends its representative named Camilla (Catalina Sandino Moreno) to contact Dr. Seth Ember (Aaron Eckhart), an exorcist that uses non-religious means to cast out demons. Dr. Ember calls what he does evictions of parasitic non-corporeal entities. Either way, Cameron needs his help but Dr. Ember is reluctant unless whatever has Cameron is one specific demon he calls Maggie. Dr. Ember learned as a child when he went to sleep he could enter the minds of possessed people. He tried to ignore his ability and live a normal life but one entity seemed to seek him out. Driving with his wife and 11-year old son, Dr. Ember’s car is hit head on by a drunk driver named Maggie but the woman is actually possessed by a demon that promises to hurt everyone Ember loves. Ember’s wife and son died in the crash and Ember is confined to a wheelchair. He now hunts for Maggie in every person he helps. Ember uses drugs to lower his heart rate and breathing down to REM sleep levels and enters the mind of the possessed. He only has seven minutes to get the job done or his heart could stop. Convinced Maggie has taken over Cameron, Ember risks an eternity of torment for his chance at revenge.

“Incarnate” isn’t a great movie but its far better than it has any right to be. Released just before Christmas from Blumhouse Productions and WWE Studios, neither of which are exactly known as quality film houses, the movie would appear to be just another cheap “Exorcist” knockoff that hopes to make a profit off a micro-budget of $5-million. Most of the action takes place in dimly lit rooms with sparse and generic furnishings. Special effects are minimal and consist mostly of fuzzy images and spotlights. At times it looks about as cheap as its budget but somehow, for me anyway, for the most part the movie works.

Some of the acting looks a bit like a high school production of “The Glass Menagerie” with sudden loud voices and grand, sweeping gestures; but a few performances stand out. David Mazouz as the possessed Cameron actually gave me the creeps on occasion. Speaking in the voice of the demon, Mazouz’s facial expressions and mannerisms perfectly conveyed the contempt and superiority Maggie feels towards Dr. Ember. It is a far more convincing and nuanced performance than Mazouz gives in his regular role as young Bruce Wayne on the TV show “Gotham.” Perhaps that show is trying to present the future Batman as having his trademark stoicism from an early age and not allowing Mazouz to show a wider range of expression. His work in “Incarnate,” which was filmed nearly two years ago, shows a much broader range of ability than we see every week on “Gotham.” Perhaps the makers of that show should loosen up their interpretation of the character a bit as Mazouz obviously has the ability.

In a smaller role, Matthew Nable is interesting to watch as Cameron’s father Dan. With limited screen time, Nable shows his character actually grow and learn from his mistakes. It is nice work given how Nable isn’t on screen for very long.

The story takes a few weird turns here and there. A subplot involving a priest with a taste for the finer things in life and an interest in some bizarre, hands-on research that aids Ember’s work seems to have been tacked on to provide a few more characters and explain a plot point late in the film. The movie also doesn’t follow its own rules that it takes a generous bit of time explaining to the audience. I realize it is creating a world of demon possession and exorcism taking place directly within the mind but still, if you say THIS must happen and it does but what was said would result doesn’t, it feels like the filmmakers believe the audience is stupid and won’t notice. I hate that.

“Incarnate” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of horror violence, terror, disturbing images, brief strong language, sensuality and thematic elements. Some of those possessed spew black goop and have solid black eyes. We see one character’s neck broken and another character’s arm broken. We see a character burst into flames after a crucifix is shoved in its mouth. An insane character is shown behind a glass door and running into that door. A character has his throat slashed. We don’t see the actual slashing but we see blood spraying on another person. The sensuality is very brief and early in the film. Foul language is widely scattered but there is on “F-Bomb.”

While it isn’t that scary, it doesn’t always follow its own rules and some of the acting could have been better, I don’t believe “Incarnate” is as bad as most of the “real” critics claim. It tells an effective story, it works as both a horror/thriller and a procedural, and there are some really good performances from David Mazouz and Matthew Nable. It won’t win any awards are break any box office records but it is entertaining and that all I really ask.

“Incarnate” gets four out of five stars.

The new movies this week involve holiday hijinks and political dirty pool. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Miss Sloane—

Office Christmas Party—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.

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