×

Film Review: ‘Incarnate’

Aaron Eckhart plays a a nondenominational exorcist in this surprisingly proficient Blumhouse potboiler.

With:
Araon Eckhart, Carice van Houten, Catalina Sandino Moreno, David Mazouz, Keir O’Donnell, Matt Nable, John Pirruccello.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3216348/

When it comes to movies about demonic possession, the devil isn’t the only thing that’s in the details. It helps a lot if the filmmakers take a few intriguing detours while covering familiar territory, and it helps even more if you have a first-rate actor who’s totally committed to the lead role. (Sorry: Richard Burton’s hambone turn in “Exorcist II: The Heretic” doesn’t really count.) “Incarnate,” the latest offering from the Blumhouse house of horrors, offers a relatively fresh take on standard-issue exorcism-melodrama tropes, along with a performance by Aaron Eckhart that is more than persuasive enough to encourage the investment of a rooting interest. It may sound like damning with faint praise, but this briskly paced potboiler is better than it has any right to be.

Eckhart plays Dr. Seth Ember, a scruffy, wheelchair-bound expeller of unclean spirits who insists that he performs “evictions,” not exorcisms, and claims that, unlike many in his chosen field, “I don’t clock in with the Vatican.” But on those rare occasions when holy water and crucifixes can’t do the trick, Catholic Church officials occasionally request Ember’s services as a subcontractor to beat the devil.

Employing a nondenominational methodology that suggests a William Peter Blatty-scripted remake of “Inception,” Ember aids demonically possessed unfortunates by “diving” into their dreams, where the victims are too busy enjoying deceptively wonderful interactions with loved ones (or smoking hot babes) to appreciate that they are in thrall to some minion of Satan. Director Brad Peyton and screenwriter Ronnie Christensen are proficient at establishing the ground rules for this gimmick, spelling out temporal limitations and escape-route necessities on the fly, and neatly tucking backstory into Ember’s dialogue exchanges with two dedicated assistants (Keir O’Donnell and Emily Jackson). A clever touch: When Ember is called upon to prove his expertise, he whips out his smartphone to present video documentation.

Popular on Variety

At the urging of a Vatican emissary (Catalina Sandino Moreno), Ember and his crew accept the challenge of freeing Cameron (David Mazouz of TV’s “Gotham”), an 11-year-old boy, from the grip of a demon with whom Ember has an old score to settle. The battle between relatively good and unspeakably evil unfolds sporadically in dream-world locations — a sunlit city park, a carnival midway — that provide effective visual contrasts to the usual exorcism-movie images of levitating and/or contorted bodies, inky-black eyes of demons, etc.

Eckhart spends much of “Incarnate” looking like something the cat dragged in, reconsidered, and tossed back outside, exuding a gone-to-seed, don’t-give-a-damn vibe that perfectly suits a character who claims to be more interested in exacting revenge than aiding innocents. (The aforementioned score-settling involves a demon responsible for the deaths of Ember’s wife and son, and his current paraplegic condition.) But wait, there’s more: An unexpectedly violent barroom encounter illustrates that Eckhart’s evictor may be the most intimidating physically challenged individual to appear on screen since a similarly gravelly voiced John Heard hobbled through “Cutter’s Way.”

Even at its comparatively short running time — scarcely 79 minutes before the closing credits — “Incarnate” isn’t quite fast enough to skate over a few distracting plot holes. (Los Angeles homicide detectives apparently turn the other way when the killer is a possessed child.) Overall, however, the film is a solid piece of work that should satisfy genre aficionados.

Film Review: 'Incarnate'

Reviewed at Loews Fountains 18, Houston, Dec. 1, 2016. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 86 MIN.

Production: A Hightop Releasing release and presentation, in association with BH Tilt, IM Global, Blumhouse, WWE Studios, of a Deep Underground Films production. Producers: Jason Blum, Trevor Engelson, Michael Seitzman. Executive producers: Stuart Ford, Charles Layton, Michael J. Luisi, Couper Samuelson, Jeanette Volturno-Brill, Brad Peyton, Josh Maguire, Matt Kaplan.

Crew: Director: Brad Peyton. Screenplay: Ronnie Christensen. Camera (color): Dana Gonzales. Editors: Todd E. Miller, Jonathan Chibnall.

With: Araon Eckhart, Carice van Houten, Catalina Sandino Moreno, David Mazouz, Keir O’Donnell, Matt Nable, John Pirruccello.

More Film

  • Participant, Magnolia Pictures Buy 'John Lewis:

    Magnolia Pictures, Participant Buy 'John Lewis: Good Trouble' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Participant and Magnolia Pictures have acquired North American rights to “John Lewis: Good Trouble,” a look at the life and career of the civil rights activist and congressional leader. The film was executive produced and financed by CNN Films, AGC Studios and Time Studios. Magnolia is planning to release the film in the spring of [...]

  • Star Wars Maryann Brandon JJ Abrams

    How Could J.J. Abrams Follow 'Star Wars'? 'I'd Love to Direct a Play'

    When “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” debuts on Dec. 20, it will, of course, mark the official close to the nine-film Skywalker Saga, one of the most successful franchises in movie history, grossing more than $7.7 billion worldwide to date (not including spinoff films “Rogue One” and “Solo”). “The Rise of Skywalker” also marks [...]

  • Tim Bevan Eric Fellner Working Title

    How Working Title Heads Are Enabling the Next Generation of U.K. Filmmakers

    Eric Fellner bounds through London Screen Academy, saying hearty hellos to students, waving to faculty and showing off the state-of-the-art facilities at the newly opened school to a Variety reporter. The brainchild of Fellner’s Working Title co-chairman, Tim Bevan, the school is intended to teach teenagers between the ages of 16 and 19 the skills [...]

  • In the Heights Movie

    Lin-Manuel Miranda, Jon M. Chu Debut 'In the Heights' Trailer

    In the first trailer for “In the Heights,” Warner Bros. and Lin-Manuel Miranda are giving a look at a couple of days in the life of what it’s like in Washington Heights. “It’s a story of a block that was disappearing,” Anthony Ramos, who stars as bodega owner Usnavi, tells young kids in the neighborhood. [...]

  • Tim Bevan Eric Fellner Working Title

    'Cats' Is Working Title's Next Bid to Turn British Pop Culture Into Box Office Gold

    From “Bridget Jones’s Diary” to “Mr. Bean,” Working Title has for the past three and a half decades helped ensure that the sun never sets on British pop culture. The leaders of the London-based film and television production company, Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner, have been important emissaries from across the pond, backing stories that [...]

  • Hugh GrantVariety Studio: Actors on Actors,

    Hugh Grant Says Iconic 'Love Actually' Dancing Scene Was 'Absolute Hell' (EXCLUSIVE)

    It may be more than 15 years since “Love Actually” was released, but Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, and Richard Curtis have finally opened up about one of the the film’s defining moments even as the movie made surprise election-related headlines in the U.K. this week. Grant, Firth and Curtis all feature in the career retrospective [...]

  • Jenna Coleman The Cry

    Great Point Media Teams With MC Credit Partners on New Film and TV Finance Initiative

    Britain’s Great Point Media is partnering with U.S.-based institutional investor MC Credit Partners on a finance initiative to fund new film and TV projects. London-based Great Point has committed $80 million to the initiative, and MCCP will invest up to $100 million from the funds under its management. The first films and TV shows to [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content