"Incarnate" is the latest from horror factory Blumhouse Productions, the studio behind the "Saw" and "Purge" franchises. I shared my screening with only one other person, an older gentleman who fell asleep about a third of the way through then left before it ended. I wonder which of us enjoyed the movie less. This is a ninety minute eye roll with fewer scares than I have fingers to a hand and hokey "thrills" more deserving of a Direct-to-DVD bargain bin than the big screen. It is so limp and lifeless a film that I can't muster up the give-a-damn to hate it. It has all the impact of wind broken on an elevator: deeply unpleasant but forgotten the moment the doors open and you go about your day.

The premise is familiar. A powerful demon possesses 11-year old Cameron and the Vatican consults Dr. Seth Ember to give it the boot. But in a twist on the typical formula, Ember is not a priest but a man of science. His work is eviction, not exorcism! Demons aren't hellspawn, they're just like any ol' malignant parasitic energy! Rather than compelling the demon with crucifixes and holy water and all that religious mumbo-jumbo, Ember evicts from within by using his aura to "dive" into the victim's mind - you know, with science! - where he punches the demon in the face while he convinces the possessed to reject the demon by jumping through a window.

An updated formula is still a formula though, and despite the pseudoscientific additions there are no surprises as "Incarnate" explains the convoluted logic and arbitrary rules of its poorly conceived "Inception" knockoff over pages and pages of clumsy exposition that both bore and hint at every plot twist and dramatic turn in painfully obvious ways. I may not be able to articulate why Ember's "dives" can only last eight minutes, but I sure as hell knew how the movie would end within twenty.

On the subject of the script, it's amazing to see talented actors struggle with such miserable material. The writing is incredibly bad. Conversations consist of a series of escalating clich├ęs delivered with all the dramatic nuance of an afternoon soap. "That's why I'm the only chance you've got." "I'm the one she wants!" and so forth, endlessly. I actually made a game of guessing a characters' next line. It was a depressingly easy game to win.

I'm willing to give the cast a pass on their performances because the characters aren't written as flesh-and-blood humans. The actors are never given an opportunity to explore their characters beyond a single defining trait or part. Take Ember. He clearly had a falling out with the Catholic Church at some point and more importantly has personal beef with the demon possessing Cameron. But he is written as a generic gruff badass who never shows vulnerability, so Eckhart grunts and grumbles his way into through a bland performance. Mazouz, whose work on "Gotham" is quite good, plays the stereotypical possessed child. He does exactly the things you'd expect and nothing you wouldn't. Boring. "Game of Thrones" veteran Carice van Houten plays Cameron's mother and is reduced to staring at a screen saying very worried-sounding things. Ugh.

At one point "Incarnate" winks at itself, joking that it avoids the spinning heads and vomit that are so typical of the genre. But in directly referencing "The Exorcist," the film drives home how lessor a copy it is, stripped of compelling themes like loss of self, faith and doubt. It portrays possession through digitally-deepened voices and red contact lenses, positively G-rated compared to Regan MacNeil's shocking transformation. Exorcism itself - sorry, eviction - is reduced to a couple of lame action sequences; there is nothing as compelling as the deeply personal struggles of Fathers Merrin and Karras. It's not even scary! I counted a total of three jump scares that were so telegraphed I actually become annoyed waiting for them to hit.

Well, it got my six bucks anyway. After the credits rolled, I processed the movie over pizza and decided to compare my notes with a few reviews by professional critics. The first one I pulled up suggested that a sequel could be really good. As I read, a chill ran down my spine.

Finally, "Incarnate" managed a scare.

Score: 1.5/5

'Twas the month of ol' Christmas and all through the cines,
Twelve* new releases for twelve bucks plus pennies.
The posters were hung by box office with care,
In hopes that some patrons would spend their cash there.

The audience nestled all snug in their seats,
snacking on popcorn and sodas and treats.
While my wife and her husband, your blogger most true,
Wracked brains over choices like which movies to do.

From YouTube the trailers arose with such clatter,
now posted below with my thoughts on the matter.
Watch and enjoy them, maybe comment below
Then it's off to the pictures to enjoy a show!

*As always this covers films nationwide only,
Poor limited-screen runs will likely feel lonely.
But frankly those movies are too hard to track,
So get off my back, man, and cut me some slack!

In Theaters Dec 2


At a Glance: When professionals fail to expel the demon possessing her 11-year old son, a mother turns to an unconventional exorcist who plans to enter his mind and face the evil there.

Why I'm (Not) Excited: Nothing says "happy holidays" quite like a ho-ho-horrible horror movie! If  "The Exorcist" and "Inception" had a shitty, unlovable baby, this would be it. I'll probably still check it out because it has Baby Bruce from "Gotham" and Two-Face from the Nolan Batman films because of my weird fan loyalty to all things Batman. I really like Batman.

In Theaters Dec 9

Office Christmas Party

At a Glance: To save their failing branch, two managers plan to impress a must-land client with an epic office party that, of course, spirals out of control.

Why I'm (Sorta Kinda) Excited: Did you see last year's "Sisters?" It was a pretty standard but entertaining house party movie that also came out around Christmas. Swap the house for an office and this looks like the same thing. More of the same may not be high art but it isn't the worst way to spend ninety minutes. Besides, the cast looks good, I guess.

Miss Sloane

At a Glance: This political thriller pits Elizabeth Sloane, a determined and successful lobbyist, against her most dangerous foe in a battle over gun control legislation.

Why I'm Excited: "Miss Sloane" released a few weeks ago in New York and Los Angeles to generally positive reviews, but Jessica Chastain's performance has received near universal praise. As an added bonus, the movie is enraging gun nuts by merely existing. A game: can you guess which of these zero or half star audience reviewers actually watched the movie? Hint: Probably none!

Nocturnal Animals

At a Glance: A woman receives a manuscript from her long-divorced ex-husband. As she reads the dark and violent novel, she finds herself again confronting their troubled relationship.

Why I'm Excited: This looks like everything I wanted "The Girl on the Train" to be and has a killer cast to boot. Like "Miss Sloane," this got a head start release in NY/LA and has gotten pretty positive reception. I haven't seen a good thriller in theaters since "10 Cloverfield Lane" in March. I'd love for this to break the dry spell.

In Theaters Dec 16

Collateral Beauty

At a Glance: A man grapples with his daughter's tragic death by writing letters to Love, Time, and Death, each of whom answer in person to help him again find meaning.

Why I'm (Naively) Excited: Okay, the trailer plays out like an Oscar-bait version of Scrooge's three ghastly visitors but I admit that it struck a chord with me. That said, despite the phenomenal cast and the director's reasonably solid track record, screenwriter Allan Loeb's filmography can be charitably described as terrible. Mixed signals clouding my judgement on this one.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

At a Glance: Bridging the original and prequel "Star Wars" trilogies, "Rogue One" tells the story of the band of rebels tasked with stealing the plans for the Empire's planet-killing superweapon, the Death Star.

Why I'm (Super Hella) Excited: You're kidding, right? It's a damn "Star Wars" movie. I don't care that there were massive reshoots and rewrites that culminated in an entirely new ending. I don't care that Disney executives were afraid that the movie didn't fit the tone of the franchise. I don't care that idiot losers are pooping themselves online that everything is ruined due to its female protagonist. It's "Star Wars." Day one, nerds.

La La Land

At a Glance: Chasing their dreams in Los Angeles, an aspiring actress and a down-on-his-luck musician meet and fall in love in this homage to the big musicals of old.

Why I'm (Singing I'm So) Excited: Damien Chazelle, the creative mind behind "La La Land," is also responsible for one of my favorite films of 2014: "Whiplash." This has been making the film festival circuit all year and to say the critical reception has been positive would be understatement - raving is probably closer to the mark. This will be a contender when Academy Award voting starts.

In Theaters December 21

Assassin's Creed

At a Glance: A condemned criminal is plucked from death row by a mysterious corporation and forced to participate in an experiment that lets him relive the memories of his ancestor, an Assassin locked in battle against the Templars during the Spanish Inquisition.

Why I'm (Not) Excited: I enjoy the Assassin's Creed games despite the ridiculous premise that you inherit your ancestor's memories through DNA. Even so, this is a video game movie and our first rule is "Never Get Excited About A Video Game Movie." Low expectations can only be met or surpassed!


At a Glance: A ship transporting thousands of colonists to a distant world malfunctions, waking two of the passengers 90 years early.

Why I'm Excited: I love small cast films, and I love the isolating things-aren't-what-they-seem premise that seems to be displayed in the trailer, though I am concerned that the trailer lays too many story beats out.


At a Glance: A koala hosts a singing competition hoping to save his failing theater, drawing entrants who seek to live their dreams and escape from disappointing lives.

Why I'm Excited: "Song Covers: The Movie" may not break any new ground but I trust Illumination Entertainment to deliver warm, family-friendly holiday fare. This is the only animated feature coming out this month and given the studio's track record it's probably safe to say this will be somewhere between fine and good.

In Theaters December 23

Why Him?

At a Glance: A father becomes locked in a holiday rivalry with his daughter's wild boyfriend.

Why I'm Excited: The trailers just don't do anything for me. The humor seems obvious and easy. However! I'm going to keep an open mind because the director, who also did work on the screenplay, is responsible for writing some pretty good comedies like "Meet the Parents" and "I Love You, Man." Trailers are edited separately from movies (hence our refrain to always judge a movie yourself: "Trailers Lie") so I'm hoping for a Christmas miracle.

In Theaters December 25


At a Glance: Based on the 1987 Pulitzer Prize winning drama, "Fences" revolves around an African-American man raising his family against the backdrop of 1950s race relations.

Why I'm Excited: There's a lot working in "Fences" favor. The award-winning play's author returned to adapt the film to screen and the film is bolstered by a proven cast in Denzel Washington (also directing) and Viola Davis. Since it's early screenings, "Fences" has gotten a lot of critical attention, nominated for best picture/film at both the Critic's Choice and Satellite Awards. Like "La La Land," expect this to pop again when Oscar nominations are announced next month.

And that's it for 2016! What a year! What are you most excited to see this month?
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