Sometimes it seems like horror can be one of the easier film genres to create. We’ve all seen horror movies where you have a handful of actors in one location, with the bare minimum of effects needed, where simple tension and the mounting unknown create a story that keeps you hooked. You often hear of films like this being made for a pretty small budget, and in only a few weeks. When it’s done right you get films like Paranormal Activity; horror movies that spawn sequels and intense discussions over how good it was. When it’s done wrong, however, you get films like The Incarnation.
The Incarnation, directed by Isaac Walsh, follows Bard (Taye Diggs) and Jess (Jessica Uberuaga), a young couple who have just moved into a new home in Los Angeles. Not only were they able to get the home fully furnished for a great price, but they got a pretty unique looking home. The house in The Incarnation is possibly the most interesting part of the film. The house is like an odd cross between a regular building and a icosahedron, with strange angles and a roof that looks more akin to some kind of dome-like tent. The interior is pretty unique too, with most of the rooms being open and connected, with only the kitchen and bedrooms upstairs being built away into their own private nooks.
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The young couple have rented their new home from Peter (Michael Madsen), an odd but seemingly nice gentleman whose father originally built the home. Things are going well for the couple, but as soon as they have their first night in the building they notice strange sounds, have their bedroom door open on its own, and find that they cannot enter the spare bedroom. When they are eventually able to access the room Jess finds a box filled with strange artefacts, gold coins, and a book filled with bizarre rituals and talk about demons. They at first dismiss this as strange, but when the two of them hit money problems Brad begins to consider using the book to summon the thing in their house, to make a deal with it to help get them out of their debts. Unfortunately, demons rarely play by the rules.
The set-up for The Incarnation sounds interesting enough; a young couple getting tormented in their own home is a staple of the horror genre, and one that can work to great effect. Unfortunately, it seems like every choice made for The Incarnation leads the film down a road of banality.
One of the first things that really stands out about this film is that other than a few minutes of flashbacks that are scattered throughout the movie there are only three characters in it. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing, there are plenty of great movies with tiny casts, but the issue here is that the cast for The Incarnation just doesn’t feel right. I don’t know if it’s lack of chemistry between the two leads, the notes from the director, or if the actors were just not on top of their game, but the movie constantly feels flat and boring. In most scenes the actors feel like they’re just saying their lines without much conviction behind them, simply trying to get through the script; as such, when there are moments that require them to put more emotion into it they feel over-the-top and hammy in comparison.
The film also never seems to want to stay still. One of the things that horror needs is tension. You sometimes need long, lingering shots so that the audience ends up waiting for something to happen, checking the dark corners of rooms for the creature. The Incarnation doesn’t let you do this. Every scene is filled with cuts, the camera is shaking and zooming in and out, or we’re getting angles where we’re watching from another room through a doorway with things in the foreground vying for focus. I was never able to feel like I was anticipating something happening, because the film never let me sit still for a second. The directing feels like it’s either trying to do something that doesn’t quite work for the film, or that Walsh perhaps doesn’t trust in the film enough to not have to keep cutting away and changing angles so as to not let the audience linger too long.
Horror films can be made for next to nothing and look pretty good, but there are times where The Incarnation feels kind of cheap. The box of occult items that Brad and Jess find feels really new, and the stuff in them looks like you’d be able to pick them up off Amazon or in a costume shop. The props don’t feel old or weathered at all, and it ruins the immersion. And the less said about the CGI used on the ‘scary’ shadow creature the better.
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People hoping for any kind of extras or additional features on the DVD to help justify the purchase are going to be left disappointed. There are no commentaries, making ofs, or even a lone trailer on offer here; you simply have two options when you insert the disc, whether you want to watch the movie, or watch the movie with subtitles.
The Incarnation feels like it was made on a shoestring budget, with a script that needed more polish and attention given to it. The movie might have some well known names in it, but that’s about all it has going for it. If you’re a huge horror fan with literally nothing else to watch you might want to give this a look just to say you’ve seen it, but I can’t imagine it being hugely beneficial to do so.
The Incarnation is out now on Digital, and will be released on DVD on 21st March from 101 Films.