So I just got home from seeing Incarnate. It wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t good either. It wasn’t memorable, but it escaped being called “forgettable” by a hair. This is another one of those dull, generic, dime-a-dozen exorcism movies that have no reason to exist, but get made anyway, and are all obviously inspired by The Exorcist. The only things that Incarnate has going for it are its scientific approach to exorcism, and a decent performance by Aaron Eckhart. Unfortunately, not only is Eckhart only allowed to show one emotion for the majority of the film (daaaaaarrrk and brooooodiiiiing), but the scientific ideas are not explored nearly enough. Which is a pity, because when I saw the trailer, it sounded like a pretty novel idea. It sounded like a fresh approach to exorcism movies. Aaron Eckhart has his two hipster assistants induce REM sleep in him, and he goes into the minds of the possessed and takes on the demon in there. Unfortunately, the movie barely explains how this method of exorcism by science works. It’s such a pity that such a cool idea was not explored nearly enough.
Though the movie deciding not to explore its sciencey stuff is a major downfall, the main problems with the movie stem from our characters. They have little to nothing to do in this movie. In fact, the only characters that actually have anything to do in this movie are Aaron Eckhart and his assistants. Aaron Eckhart is also the only character that even comes close to being interesting, but that’s just because he’s a much angstier version of Father Merrin from The Exorcist. They both have this feud with this particular demon for various reasons, but it’s Eckhart’s character that is so fully consumed with his desire for revenge, which makes his character seem all the more generic. And apart from Eckhart and the demonic antagonist, none of the characters are memorable in the slightest, except for the fact that Eckhart’s hipster assistants are just that hipster. I don’t remember any of their names, save the name of the demon. I don’t even remember their character traits. I know nothing about the possessed kid save for his daddy issues. I know nothing about the kid’s mother save for her hubby issues. I know nothing about the chick from the Vatican (another problem: there’s, like, less than ten people in this movie.).
A horror movie is only as good as its villain, and the villain is pretty weakly written. This female demon named Maggie (how spoopy) just has nothing to do until literally the last minute or two of the movie, which I won’t spoil. Seriously, when she possesses the kid, she literally just sits crisscross applesauce in a meditative position in the kid’s room for almost the entire duration of the possession. She does literally nothing to make her creepy. Oh, and her voice is clearly just electronically lowered. That’s the reason that The Exorcist, though a great movie, just didn’t do it for me: the demon had nothing to do for most of the movie other than possess Regan and torment people. All she did was showcase scary makeup, make scary faces, spout scary dialogue in a scary voice, and occasionally contort herself into scary positions. Though the demon-possessed Regan was scary, I was disappointed because she didn’t have much to do. A fantastic recent example of a demonic character that actually did something was Bathsheba Sherman in The Conjuring. She was downright terrifying, and the scene in which she possesses Carolyn Perron is ungodly scary. And after Bathsheba possessed Carolyn, she actually had something to do: possess the mother to kill the child, a deliberate perversion of the unconditional love a parent has for her child. That’s scary; nay, disturbing. I typically find that the scariest movie demons have the goal of just tearing apart a family via their evil influence. That’s one of the worst crimes imaginable. But back to Incarnate. I think Maggie’s dialogue made me realize that I was never going to feel any sense of threat from her. See, in some movies such as The Exorcist or even The Exorcism of Molly Hartley, the dialogue that the demon uses is very much in the vein of Hannibal Lecter and HAL 9000. These demons know exactly how to get under your skin. They know what’s in your underwear drawer. They know what’s in your diary. They know your deepest, darkest desires. They know your past mistakes. They know every instinct of the human animal. That’s scary. And when you combine this dialogue with a fantastic performance, like, of course, Mercedes McCambridge in The Exorcist, you feel the vibe of Oh my gosh, I’m hearing the voice of evil incarnate. You know that the being possessing these poor people is very, very evil. But Maggie in Incarnate does not have this. In fact, her lines are pretty shaky.
The overall story’s pacing is kind of off, with us spending the first two acts of the movie moving along at a really fast clip. The third act not only slows down, but the climax itself feels both too long and too short. And the movie could have ended twice before it finally did. The acting isn’t bad at all; in fact, Eckhart does pretty well with what he has to work with. But as a whole, none of the actors give performances worthy enough to write home about or put on a resume. It doesn’t help that the majority of the dialogue is expository. The movie as a whole is shot fine, save for the lighting, which reduces every night scene to a murky gray, and fails to make that monochrome color scheme work.
It’s an unoriginal movie with an undercooked premise. It’s not good enough to be at least average, but it’s not bad enough to be irksome. It’s essentially like being fed a cube of unflavored gelatin. It’s like opening a bottle of Gatorade, taking a sip, and realizing that the factory heavily watered the Gatorade down, like they normally do. And I’m giving this one a 1.5 out of 5.