DECEMBER 1, 2016
January comes early! Incarnate may have gotten released today, December 2nd (in the US at least; it came out overseas last year - it was shot in 2013, mind you), but it feels like a typical January horror offering, in that it's perfectly watchable but nothing more, and sounds like an interesting movie on paper but either didn't get the money, time, or talent (or all three) to really come to life. Movies like Legion and The Rite fit into this category, and it's interesting how many of them deal with exorcisms and other biblical-minded scenarios - why no faith in the sub-genre that produced the most successful horror movie of all time? It's the sort of thing you can wonder about while watching this movie, since it's fine but doesn't demand much of your attention to follow along, nor will you be rewarded for giving it your all.
Hell it doesn't even have a lot of scare attempts, which to me personally is a blessing since this stuff doesn't work on me anyway (there's a halfway decent one in the opening sequence, with someone/something fluttering by the camera without the would-be victim seeing, but there are only a handful of others), but will likely be a bummer for the younger audiences who might be enticed by the fact that we haven't had a big horror movie in a while (Ouija 2 was six weeks ago), and allowed in because of the PG-13 rating. And it's got Two-Face and Melisandre in the cast, so that might also be a selling point, but it's definitely more adult-leaning, opting for character-driven intensity over traditional scares. Again, this is all perfectly fine to me, but the problem is these attempts aren't very successful - it might be for adults, but the execution is remedial.
The biggest problem is that it feels like a first draft of a script, where the writer got all the beats and expected plot turns down (and did a fairly decent job with them as well), but never went back and fleshed things out. Aaron Eckhart's character is being haunted by a demon named Maggie, but there's precious little time given to explaining where she came from and why she has nothing better to do than make his life hell. Maggie's newest target is a little boy with divorced parents, and what could have been an interesting approach (an abusive father having to regain his son's trust and love) is discarded almost instantly, nor do the parents get much of a chance to talk about the situation. See, the boy is obviously quite endangered because of the demon, but the mom (Carice van Houten) doesn't even tell the dad, because he got drunk one night and accidentally broke the kid's arm - that's kind of a dick move on her part, really. Not that I wanted them to magically fall in love again, but when we're told that the demon finds the weak and downtrodden because it's easier to possess them, you realize that the dad being cut out of the kid's life was part of that sadness, and the mom was partially to blame - and there's no real consequence to her for that. Hell I'm not even sure if she realizes it, which just adds to the movie's overall failure to really dig into its more interesting elements.
The script's lack of follow through extends to the production design, sadly. The movie's coolest idea is to treat possession/exorcism with a more sci-fi approach, allowing Eckhart's character to enter the possessed person's mind and help them break free of the demon's hold. These scenes start off with settings that are unique to that person's dreams and fantasies (a park and a carnival for the kid, a fancy nightclub for a lawyer that Eckhart is working with when his character is introduced), but ultimately end up all looking the same - Eckhart asks the person their favorite color and then a door appears, in that very color! And beyond that door is... uh, an empty small room, with a window that they have to jump out of in order to break free. We're told these areas are constructs of the possessed person's mind, so why are the three we see all exactly the same after the first room or two? Is the demon actually constructing this place, and if so, why do they only imagine what looks like a generic hotel in downtown LA? There's a real world location in the film (a friend of Eckhart's who collects artifacts) that has more visual flair than these dream world ones, which seems like a real missed opportunity to give the film some arresting setpieces.
But, again, it's not really that bad. The Inception-y concept may not be fully realized, but it's certainly more interesting than watching the millionth priest shout at the millionth Regan wannabe (and yes, they throw in an Exorcist reference to make sure we know they've seen it too), and I like that Eckhart's character treats it from a completely scientific approach instead of a religious one. In fact he's hired by the Vatican to help out on this particular case, a fun inverse of the usual "when science fails turn to god" approach for these films - it's the little touches like that this that keep the movie treading water where so many other possession films (let's go back to January stuff and invoke Devil's Due) have sunk. In fact I'd be curious if the script WAS more ambitious but scaled back when it got sold to Blumhouse, who refuses to spend any of the money it makes on its giant hits (the average budget is like 6m and their average gross is about 50m). To be fair, it doesn't seem as reshot/re-edited like some other Blumhouse movies, where the second guessing is apparent and frustrating, though some of that test audience-dictated action rears its ugly head near the climax, where they had a visualization of the demon that either looked silly or fake (or just didn't fit with the otherwise grounded movie) and thus tried as hard as they could to cut it out entirely, leaving only a (confusing) arm in a couple of brief shots.
I also liked how Eckhart dove into schlubbing it up for his role, something I wasn't even aware of until it happened in the movie (I only saw half of one trailer for the movie, a while back, so I wasn't even really sure what it was about beyond possession stuff). When we first see him, he's in total handsome suave guy mode, i.e. what you expect Aaron Eckhart to look like on any Saturday night on the town. But that's a dream, and in reality he's got long hair, borderline homeless guy clothes, and he's also paralyzed from the waist down - he goes from Tom Cruise in Cocktail to Tom Cruise in Born on the Fourth of July, basically. Given how much flack he took for being a "sexy" version of the monster in I, Frankenstein, I liked that his return to the horror genre was lacking any of that vanity (be it his or the producers') except for when the plot required it. He's also not even all that sympathetic, flat out telling van Houten that he didn't care as much about saving her son as he did getting revenge on Maggie - you know the movie won't actually get so dark that he'd let the kid die if it meant taking out his tormentor, but the sentiment was still appreciated. Basically there was just enough to hold my attention (I stayed awake despite it being a late show!), and in fact I suspect if I was still living up to the "A Day" part of this site I'd like it even more, because I'd be more worn down by all the movies that couldn't be bothered to add anything unique or interesting at all.
This one comes from the BH "Tilt" label, but got a wide release anyway (most of the others, like their Town That Dreaded Sundown remake, went more or less straight to VOD), though I can't imagine it really paying off. According to Thursday preview numbers it won't even make as much as this year's fellow castoff The Darkness, which is a shame since it's better and worthy of a followup if the interest was there (and since Darkness is their lowest grossing wide release genre film, that means this will take its place). Ironically, it'll probably find its audience on VOD and Netflix, where people will throw it on for background noise and end up finding it a bit more interesting than they might have expected. Eckhart gives a fine performance and the supporting cast is solid, and it's got thankfully very few silly moments (the potential for one is raced past before we can react to it - someone dies during an exorcism attempt and the body is taken away by uniformed medics, yet none of them or a cop can be seen asking for an explanation). And it's always nice to see Blumhouse moving the fuck away from ghosts for a change, so props to that as well.
What say you?