In the UK premiere of Filip Kovacevic's Serbian action-thriller, 'Incarnation', a Groundhog Day-esque premise rears its head, but proves once and for all that a unique premise and a strong start doesn't even begin to guarantee the enjoyment of its entirety. Shame, really.
Oh sci-fi-mystery-thriller-action films, how you taunt me with your thrilling mystery and your mysterious action. With the need for a unique premise, pacing expertise, a clever ending, and enough twists to keep a minimum amount of attention from an audience to at least a level of not having to worry about the premise, the pacing, or however much attention is being paid, it can be hard to make an effective mystery-thriller-action film to the best of its capabilities. But rarely, ever so rarely, they pop up out of the mass of innumerable films of similar veins to the top of the pile, where they brandish expertise, intellect, and an impressive control over its audience. 2011’s Source Code managed to do just that, as did Inception and Looper, proving that sometimes action can have its deeper side. Sometimes action films can be beautiful, and can say something worth listening to.
Incarnation is not one of those films. Which is just the biggest shame, because it had just the biggest potential and promise to live up to its influences. Offering a frustratingly uneven ratio of questions to answers, it follows an unnamed man as he repeatedly wakes up on a bench after being repeatedly killed by four masked assassins. Unsurprisingly, most of the film is made up of chase sequences followed by stand-offs followed by chase sequences. None of them prove to be of any use until the last half an hour or so, meaning the other hour is basically like watching a puppy flail around in a pond it just fell into before realising it can indeed, swim.
Proving eerily similar to Source Code for the first ten minutes or so, Incarnation checks the box of ‘unique premise’ within the first minute, though Stojan Djordjevic’s (the name behind the unnamed protagonist) definition of frustration may need to undergo some reconsideration. Waking up again and again in the same place after being shot again and again requires a little more than a mildly confused acceptance, which is all Djordjevic seems to offers, don’t you think? He’s perfectly acceptable for the whole film, which luckily fails to tip-toe into the realm of the stilted, a crime many independent films (and several of Hollywood’s; the rich and famous can make mistakes too) are unfortunately guilty of – but nothing special, let alone memorable.
As for pacing, Incarnation remarkably seems to act as some kind of expert on it. Impressive, enjoyable and genuinely scary at points, it creates and maintains edge-of-your-seat thrills from the first thirty seconds, creating a well-seasoned hotpot of twists and turns, confrontations, revelations and the odd jump scare, and raising that acceleration ever-so-steadily, up and up, until… the first forty-five minutes are over.
It’s as if the film’s outline was split in half, incomplete and sparse on its second half, and given to two different writers. The first half: thrilling, entertaining, creating a thirst for answers. The second half: unwilling to offer any satisfactory answers, leaving most questions dead in the ground and forgotten about. What a pairing.
Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige begins by saying ‘Every magic trick consists of three parts, or acts. The first part is called the Pledge, the magician shows you something ordinary, a deck of cards, or a bird, or a man. He shows you this object, and pledges to you its utter normality […] The second act is called the Turn. The magician take the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. But you can’t clap yet. Because making something disappear isn’t enough. You have to bring it back. That’s why every magic trick has a third act. The hardest part, the part we call The Prestige’.
A similar logic can be applied to the entertainment value of films. The Pledge is the premise, the Turn is the inciting events, the Prestige is the ending- the conclusion, the way everything is drawn together, every question answered. And with Incarnation‘s ending feeling more like chickening out than anything else, and with plot details given out at all too convenient moments (oh! How lucky he suddenly remembers his identity just as the whole ‘I-can’t-remember-who-I-am’ thing starts to tire out), this is far from what the film the trailer promises. It is far from the completed project its first half promises even, and far from a Prestige of an ending. Nothing was ‘brought back’, just simply chucked away as if the details never existed, or worse, weren’t important enough to consider to begin with. With promised mind-blowing plot twists and heart-stopping revelations, Incarnation pales in comparison to its influences – and hides in the shadows of them too.
Inkarnacija/ Incarnation (2016), directed by Filip Kovacevic, is being shown as part of the 2016 Raindance Film Festival. Further information about the festival including screening times and ticket information can be found here.