By: Hawk Ripjaw (Five Beers) –
Looks like Christmas came early for Hawk Ripjaw when it comes to bad movies.
Dr. Seth Ember (Aaron Eckhart, apparently cosplaying as Sean Bean) is a wheelchair-bound exorcist for hire, fueled by booze and vengeance since the death of his wife and son in a car accident caused by a drunk lady who was actually a demon. He also doesn’t like to call his line of work “exorcism,” and in fact takes every chance he can get to waste time pointing this out. He calls it “evicting,” and he does it by taking his two punk-rock assistants, strapping on an IV drip, plugging a bunch of computer monitors into the back of his wheelchair, entering the mind of the victim Inception-style to engage the entity in a fistfight (at one point killing the shit out of one by force-feeding him a crucifix), and convincing the victim to jump out of a window (still in their mind) to escape the demon, which somehow forces it to leave the body.
Wow, I just realized, hours after seeing the movie, how little sense that last part makes.
Nowadays, Ember takes these jobs selectively in the hopes of finding and defeating the demon responsible for taking his family from him. Apparently there are only a handful of these guys? Ember even has a bulletin board outlining a hierarchy of demons leading to this one, like undercover cops do with the photos and string to try to uncover the mastermind of a drug smuggling ring. What makes this demon so special? How did Ember find all of this out given that his apparent only way to handle situations is to assault people? Do demons even do drugs?
When a young, menacing-looking kid named Cameron (I think it’s Cameron. IMDB doesn’t know either. We’re going with Cameron) gets an unwanted tenant, Ember initially rejects the job and the giant briefcase of bundled bills offered by the Vatican (because the Vatican apparently just has stacks lying around), but upon learning it could be the work of his nemesis, he accepts this as a chance to finally defeat her. The movie also gently implies he might be open to a chance to bang Cameron’s mom (Clarice Van Houten).
Anyway. Then they try several times to evict the evil spirit. And that’s about it. No character arcs. Barely a model of a second and third act. The movie kind of just happens, and then it ends.
The trailer for Incarnate looked dumb from the first seconds–dumb in a way that could end up being fun. As it turns out, it’s not just dumb, it is fucking nuts. The entire concept of the evictions (including an opening scene in a… mind nightclub), which end with the victim going through a door of their favorite color and jumping out of the window is inspired silliness. Ember’s colleague Felix lives in a warehouse filled inexplicably with everything from high-tech equipment, to weird statues and relics, to a reinforced cell holding a possessed man from which Felix harvests blood–blood which, when injected, will kill Ember so he won’t get possessed. I think.
Eckhart continues to be a reliable actor with a bizarre taste in projects. He always gives strong performances, no matter how stupid the movie is, and he puts in a solid effort to elevate this nonsense. David Mazouz (Gotham) is also a gifted actor, although he has almost nothing to do here as Cameron. His stage directions probably amounted to little more than “Talk like you’re possessed” and “Look scared/cry.” At least he’s convincing when he does those things, but after also starring in The Darkness earlier this year, Mazouz is treading dangerously close to being typecast as the kid in peril in shitty horror movies.
And… if I’m being honest, fighting demons inside someone else’s mind is kinda cool, in a dumb “T-Rexes with rocket launcher nostrils” kind of way.
Beers Two & Three
The lunacy of the core concept also translates into some minor bits that are just plain stupid (though still hilarious). Somehow, the spirit, inhabiting the body of a homeless woman, manages to possess Cameron by sneaking through the window of his apartment… four stories up. Then, after the spirit transfers over for reasons that aren’t really discussed or even questioned, Cameron breaks the old host’s neck and his eyes glow red while AWOLNATION’S “Sail” starts playing over a late title card. Ember also discusses his ability to enter the minds of possessed individuals and mentions that he first discovered he could do it earlier in life, and now I really want to know what sequence of events led to that discovery. In terms of the procedure itself, apart from strapping enough electronics to Ember to turn him into the Lawnmower Man (and nothing at all to the victim), nothing is simple. Ember has 8 minutes in the other mind before his heart gives out. Nobody can touch the victim immediately after the eviction is finished, because it transfers over via touch.
As much logic as is crammed into the rules of the eviction, far less was used in writing the rest of the movie.
Cliched, clunky dialogue abounds in Incarnate. Entire characters exist just to supply the endless stream of exposition and new logic for the progressively more convoluted rules of the team’s method, pointing at computer screens and explaining things such as auras and possession transfers and trying very hard not to use the term “kick” to describe someone being pulled from the dream state.
Elsewhere, you get such nuggets as:
“I thought you said you didn’t care about Cameron.”
“Yeah, well…I lied.”
Or this bit from the possessed Cameron:
“Let the games begin!”
Or this great exchange:
“You’re going down.”
“Maybe. But so are you.”
And yet, if this movie had gone the route of supernatural action horror and didn’t take itself so damn seriously, these lines would have felt much more at home.
For a horror movie, Incarnate is surprisingly light on scares of any variety. Apart from the limp opening possession scene, the movie barely attempts to build any tension or dread. Even the jump scares, which are par for these PG-13 horror movies, are few and far between, and the climax felt more like a mid-film setpiece than a high-stakes finale. Even the attempts at emotion feel like everyone just checked out. It’s not scary, or dramatic, or capable of inducing any sort of significant feelings whatsoever.
Your enjoyment of Incarnate will depend heavily on whether or not you chuckle at the idea of a wheelchair-bound Eckhart effortlessly kicking someone’s ass in a bar, and if the idea of a human’s aura being described as “a WiFi hotspot” is something you’re able to make fun of. Nearly everything about it is flawed: Its logic is messy, the characters are poorly defined, and weird new ideas are introduced at an unreasonable rate. It will be generally satisfying for the moviegoer that gravitates to this sort of garbage, though in hindsight it disappoints just a little bit on account of how much more bonkers it could have been. It’s fucking terrible, and mostly in a way that makes it entertaining.
Incarnate (2016) Drinking Game
Do a Shot: whenever Ember gets physically aggressive against someone.
Take a Drink: for every dream demon.
Take a Drink: every time someone starts to explain something or spout exposition.
Do a Shot: every time someone breaks one of the rules.