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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. He is also an acting and dialogue coach. 



Siraj Syed reviews Incarnate: This Entity is an Omen for the Exorcist

Siraj Syed reviews Incarnate: This Entity is an Omen for the Exorcist

In cinema, as in most other industries, if you don’t innovate, you are dead. Innovation is an essential part of the survival kit, and if new genres are proving elusive, makers must, nevertheless, try to reformat the template. So, if you can’t re-incarnate, at least ‘incarnate’. A good example of eschewing supernatural tropes and plying atypical ropes instead is Incarnate. That it stumbles occasionally, and even trips on these very ropes, is unfortunate, and surprising, the effort itself being off-beat and laudable.

An unconventional, wheel-chair bound exorcist who can tap into the subconscious of the possessed and engage the demon in a battle of manipulated dreams meets his match when he confronts the case of an 11-year-old boy possessed by a demon from his (the exorcist’s) past. The demon preys on the disturbed boy’s weak mind, and forces him to indulge in violent acts.

Initially unwilling to take on the case because it is referred to him by the Vatican (he believes that his job is above any religion), he reconsiders when he learns that the Demon is Maggie, the woman who killed his wife and son, in an attempt to eliminate him, and has been elusive since then. Maggie is very powerful, and any confrontation could result in the death of the boy, or of himself or both. To eliminate the continuing threat, the exorcist puts his life at stake.

Incarnate took two years after its launch to land at cinemas in Belgium, another year to arrive at screens in the USA, and finds release in India four weeks later, on New Year’s Eve 2016-17. Hardly the kind of fare one would want to savour on a holiday weekend, the last of the year, one would demur. On second thought, Blumhouse specialises in low-budget horror stuff, and usually makes big ripples at the box-office while sending sharp shivers down audiences’ spines. Screen-writer Ronnie Christensen (Passengers, Dark Tide, Latitude) starts with familiar ingredients, and ends up with a dish that is not quite the Chef’s special, neither is it on the menu.

A paralysedeExorcist who first tries to conceal his gift and then turns it in to state-of-the-art diagnostic treatment, with a spunky babe and a tattooed dude as assistants, is not your conventional hero. Sending out realistic images through a drugged, near-deadened, brain, to counter the misleading reality conjured by the entity, is a departure from the norm, to be sure. And cleansing most of his patients by appearing in their para-normal consciousness, in his fully fitsy and fully fisty alter ego, is not the modus operandi we are accustomed to.

Where Christensen flounders is the completely digressive, though thankfully brief,  sub-plot, about the Vatican, the juvenile attack on the exorcist and his family by Maggie (in flashback), the predictable twist involving the exorcist’s teacher, the flimsy method of relocating the demon from one body to another, and the delineation of the boy’s father, including his pointless end. Christensen rises to the occasion when he seduces you into believing that it has all ended well, when spoilers, okay? Moreover, if you have checked the film is 86 minutes long, you would already know that the 60 minute and 70 minute into the narrative point climaxes are all ploys and decoys.

Directed by Brad Peyton (Canadian; Evelyn: The Cutest Evil Dead Girl, Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, San Andreas), Incarnate is kept at a healthy 86 minutes and has been passed by the Indian Central Board of Film Certification without any excision, but restricting admission to persons above 18 years of age A for Adults only). He does seem to get carried away by the grit that radiates from Eckhart’s grim-face, and allows him a free rein as a punch-machine. There is many a nod to trend-setters like Omen, Exorcist and Entity, yet there is no getting away from the fact that those are hard acts to follow.

After the villain in a Batman film and the President of America, Aaron Eckhart (The Dark Knight, Rabbit Hole, London Has Fallen), the visual reconstruction of Paul Newman, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Charlton Heston, John Travolta, Sean Bean, Thomas Jane and more, has proven once again that he loves challenges and that being square-jaw does not come in the way emoting. Most critics, for their part, have not been kind to him this time, and he will have to ‘take it on the chin’ that the proverb is made of.                  

Supporting cast includes Carice van Houten (Dutch: The Fifth Estate, Race, Brimstone),   David Mazouz (young Bruce Wayne from Gotham), Catalina Sandino Moreno (Love in the Time of Cholera, Che, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse), Mark Henry, George Anthony Anisimow, Karolina Wydra and Emjay Anthony. Music by Andrew Lockington is up to the mark.

With para-normal activity becoming normal, with horrific becoming terrific, with demons becoming de-rigueur, with possession becoming a profession, with entities becoming propensities---anything that is even remotely refreshing is welcome. No, not into the real spaces of your cranium, at least as a cinematic foray into grey areas and dream zones of your sub-conscious.

Rating: **1/2


P.S.: For reasons she did not elaborate, Aparna Kamerkar, the Executive Assistant who oversees Public Relations at the local distributor, Pictureworks, said to me at the press screening that she was keenly looking forward to my review of Incarnate. Such a statement could either denote endorsement of my earlier reviews, or suggest closer scrutiny of this one. I hope it is the former. Either way, it is encouraging enough that she reads my reviews!

Pictureworks was launched by Avinaash Jumani, in May 2010, with the acquisition of Luc Vinciguerra’s Santa Apprentice and Dermot Mulroney’s Love, Wedding, Marriage. Notable releases include Whiplash, Paddington and Eye in the Sky. It operates from Mumbai. Though there are several companies abroad (Shanghai, Hongkong, Kuala Lumpur, Dublin, and more) with similar names, including one located at Ang Mo Kio, Singapore, where I lived for eight years, Jumani’s Pictureworks™ is registered in India.


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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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