Gruesome Reviews Theatrical Reviews

“Incarnate” (2016): A Unique Take on Possession, But All Garnish and No Entrée

Incarnate (1983) by Ramsey Campbell is one of my favorite supernatural horror novels, so when I saw the title of this film, I quickly checked to see if there was a connection. Sadly, for me at least, there’s no connection between Campbell’s novel  Incarnate  and Incarnate the film. I’m sure no one else wondered about that, but I did, and now that it’s out of the way …

Incarnate tells the story of Dr. Seth Ember (Aaron Eckhart), who has the rare ability to fight demons and perform exorcisms. Only they’re not demons, they’re non-corporeal parasitic entities, and since there’s no religion involved, he doesn’t perform exorcisms, it’s an eviction. The parasitic entities turn their hosts into willing participants by convincing them they are living in their own Utopian dream-life. Though only a dream or hallucination, the hosts are convinced their dreamscape is reality. Seth has the ability to enter the host’s mind and insert himself into the false reality dream. Once there, he tries to convince them what they are experiencing is not the real world and they must willingly come with him to escape. A short chase ensues followed by Seth asking the parasite’s host to think of their favorite color. Once they name the color, a panel door of that color appears. They quickly rush through it, jump out a window, and land back in reality.

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It might seem like I’m giving too much away, but everything I’ve described is revealed within the first 10 minutes of Incarnate.

Seth is in a wheelchair as the result of an automobile accident in which his wife and son died. The accident was caused by a parasitic entity Seth calls Maggie. Until the accident, Seth had preferred to live a normal life, keeping his paranormal ability under wraps, but after the accident, he’s made it his sole pursuit to find and destroy Maggie. During his out-of-the-body  travels, Seth is assisted by his support team, Riley (Emily Jackson) and Oliver (Keir O’Donnell).

After the introductory eviction, Seth is approached by a Vatican representative (Catalina Sandino Moreno) with a request to help a boy who’s been invaded by a parasite, Cameron (David Mazouz), and his mother (Carice van Houten). Seth is uninterested until the Vatican representative convinces him this time, the entity really is Maggie.

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There’s a lot wrong with Incarnate and not much right. Writer Ronnie Christensen and director Brad Peyton (San Andreas, 2015) make use of a nice twist on the standard exorcism dilemma, but they aren’t able to capitalize on their idea. Running through your favorite colored door and jumping out the window seems exceedingly trite as a possession escape device and makes a successful “eviction” rather anticlimactic.

Incarnate also makes use of one of the most dreaded horror film tropes — characters doing stupid things. The parasites transfer from person to person through touch, so one of Seth’s most emphatic admonitions is, “No matter what happens, DON’T TOUCH THE BOY!” So naturally, Cameron’s mother touches him. Her action is telegraphed throughout the scene, and neither Seth nor his team members bother to use their experience to realize what’s about to happen and warn her.

There’s not enough substance to the story to create and sustain any level of tension, anticipation, or fear. The evictions seem too easy and happen too quickly to feel much of anything. The ageless entities seem very powerful once inside a host and are able to use telekinesis to throw people around with enough force to kill them. Instead of using his supernatural powers, Cameron spends most his possession sitting cross-legged in the middle of a room, waiting and observing. It’s not the type of experience-fueled tactic you would expect from a nearly immortal and very formidable  entity. The filmmakers attempt a surprise twist at the end of Incarnate, but it’s not a surprise when you know what’s going to happen and you spend the entire scene waiting for it to occur.

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The rules of the evictions are an attempt to raise the stakes with a pair of artificial time constraints — Seth can “travel” for only eight minutes and Cameron’s entity must be evicted within three days, or they will die — but neither of them is enough to add any real suspense to Incarnate. In addition, I know that it might seem to be a trivial matter, but  it’s difficult to get your ire up about an evil entity named Maggie, especially when there are so many other names available that might induce just a little trepidation.

The acting is sufficient as far as it goes. However, Aaron Eckhart is never believable as the character he is trying to play. I’m not sure whether it’s a result of poor casting, directing, or acting, but I just kept seeing Aaron Eckhart acting instead of seeing his character experiencing the story. In Eckhart’s defense, he doesn’t have much with which to work.

Though not always fatal, it’s never a good sign when a film’s release is delayed repeatedly as in the case of Incarnate. It looks good and starts with a unique take on the possession / possessed child sub-genre, but it’s all garnish and no entrée. In total,  Incarnate is a rather blasé piece of film-making – a film you have to sit through rather than get to experience

Incarnate 1.5 out of 5 stars (1.5 / 5)

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Jeff Mohr
Jeff lives smack dab in the middle of the cornfields of Iowa and is a long-time horror fan. His first remembered encounters with the genre were The Wizard of Oz, Tarzan gorilla chases, and watching the first broadcast of The Twilight Zone episode, "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge." While he now qualifies as an old fart, he strives to be an Old Boy. Paraphrasing Robert Bloch, he has the heart of a small boy. He keeps it in a jar on his desk.

Jeff has written for Horrornews.net and SQ Horror Magazine. He currently writes for Gruesome Magazine and is a co-host of the Decades of Horror podcasts - The Classic Era, 1970s, and 1980s - and the Gruesome Magazine Podcast.
Jeff Mohr
Jeff lives smack dab in the middle of the cornfields of Iowa and is a long-time horror fan. His first remembered encounters with the genre were The Wizard of Oz, Tarzan gorilla chases, and watching the first broadcast of The Twilight Zone episode, "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge." While he now qualifies as an old fart, he strives to be an Old Boy. Paraphrasing Robert Bloch, he has the heart of a small boy. He keeps it in a jar on his desk. Jeff has written for Horrornews.net and SQ Horror Magazine. He currently writes for Gruesome Magazine and is a co-host of the Decades of Horror podcasts - The Classic Era, 1970s, and 1980s - and the Gruesome Magazine Podcast.