INCARNATION movie poster | ©2022 Cinedigm

INCARNATION movie poster | ©2022 Cinedigm

Rating: Not Rated
Stars: Taye Diggs, Jessica Uberuaga, Michael Madsen, Rich Paul, Antonio Jones
Writers: Isaac Walsh and Tyler Clair Smith
Director: Isaac Walsh
Distributor: Cinedigm
Release Date: February 18, 2022

INCARNATION is one of those titles that could mean a lot of different things. In this case, there’s a demon who’d like to get into our world.

Director Isaac Walsh, working from a script he wrote with Tyler Clair Smith, has made a pleasingly tight movie that’s essentially a three-hander.

Brad (Taye Diggs) and Jess (Jessica Uberuaga) are a happily married couple who are delighted to move to Southern California. They rent an architecturally unique house that’s quasi-isolated, albeit next to the freeway. Eccentric landlord Peter (Michael Madsen) says that his father built the house, with its odd angles and window placements that create traveling visual patterns along the walls and floor.

Brad is concerned with finances and the new business he and Jess are trying to start. Jess is more interested in starting a family. This leads to some tension. There’s also a room with a sticky door, some old coins, and an ancient occult book that Peter thinks belonged to his dad. Oh, yes, there are also some inexplicable noises.

Th filmmakers employ a handheld aesthetic that uses a lot of light and shadow to build tension. The low-budget ethos and contained setting remind us a bit of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, but because INCARNATION isn’t restricted to the point of view of security cameras, we can follow the action wherever it goes. This said, we’re almost never off the property, except for a few flashbacks to Brad’s childhood with his brutal father (Rich Paul).

In a good way, many scenes sound as if they are improvised, with people talking over each other or searching for words. This never drags, and creates a sense of authenticity and spontaneity. It’s easy to understand why Diggs signed on (he’s also an executive producer): Brad is an extremely well-rounded, well-drawn character, whose attempts to escape one kind of darkness lead him into another.

While Jess is defined mainly by her maternal desires, Uberuaga succeeds in giving her depth and letting us see her change. Madsen has an air of jovial menace.

Most actual violence is outside the frame line, though there are some distressing sounds and a fair amount of after-the-fact bodily injury. The filmmakers are especially ingenious in how they dole out horror imagery, teasing us until we’re sure we’re not going to see anything solid, then casually throwing something monstrous into frame. The final scene has a strong horror kick.

INCARNATION does have some limitations. It’s helpful to the audience to know what’s in that ancient book, but viewers who can’t freeze-frame aren’t given time to read it. Also, apart from jeopardy to our leads, it’s not clear exactly what danger the demon represents to civilization in general. There’s mystery built into the history of Peter and his parent, but no revelations are forthcoming.

Still, INCARNATION is worthwhile high-end low-budget genre fare.

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