Incarnate (2016) Explained

An Average Movie-Goer’s Review

Spoilers! If you don’t want spoilers – check out the Spoiler-Free post

I love horror movies and if I’m going to watch them anyway, why not write an entertaining/funny review from the POV of an average movie-goer and not a professional critic.

Today we’re looking at 2016’s Incarnate

While searching for a demon from his past, a scientist (Aaron Eckhart) who kills demons by entering a victim’s subconscious is asked to save a child from a powerful entity.

Is Incarnate Scary?

Not even a little bit. There are no jump scares, no scenes that feel unsettling or create suspense, and no terrifying monsters. Overall you won’t leave Incarnate afraid of anything unless you just woke up from a nightmare where Aaron Eckhart was asking you about the time.

Incarnate Full Plot Summary:

The film opens with Lindsey (Carice van Houten) and her son Cameron (David Mazouz) arriving home from the grocery store. It’s important to note that David Mazouz played a young Bruce Wayne AKA Batman in the live-action television show Gotham

I’m only mentioning this because our other main character in this film is Aaron Eckhart who played Harvey Dent/Two Face in 2008’s The Dark Knight, and there’s no way I will not bring this back up later.

As Cameron waits for his mother to unlock the building door, he spots a homeless woman across the street who growls at him. 

That night, as Lindsey is asleep, Cameron hears a clacking coming from the living room. Instead of ignoring it as any child would, he investigates the sounds without grabbing a weapon first. 

Luckily the clacking is from the window blind cord bumping into the wall due to the wind. Although there is the slight problem of the window having been closed earlier. Cameron doesn’t have time to worry about that because of footprints he sees leading to a dark corner of the room.  

Continuing to investigate shit he should just ignore, Cameron slowly approaches the corner and, as the camera pans out, we see the homeless woman from earlier on the freaking ceiling! She drops down and attacks Cameron but a moment later, Cameron appears to fall into a trance, overpowers the woman, and snaps her neck. And that is the weirdest Batman origin story I’ve ever seen.

Cameron becomes possessed in 2016's Incarnate
Uh-oh, that’s not Batman.

Title screen! 

Cut to Dr. Ember (Aaron Eckhart) at a club looking for a man named Henry (John Pirruccello) and by ‘looking for’, I mean he finds him immediately. Henry, who is surrounded by attractive women, seems confused by Ember’s presence and even more so when Ember tells him it’s time to go. 

Ember notes that it’s 1:46 a.m. and that it’s been that time for hours. This causes Henry to call him crazy and request security. Sure Ember is the protagonist of this movie and I’m sure he has a good reason for crashing this party but all he’s done is not introduce himself, talk about the time, and demand the fun stop; he’s the bad guy right now.

Ember pulls out an engraved lighter and tosses it to Henry while telling him it’ll help him remember who he really is. He then reveals they’re inside Henry’s head and that he’s actually possessed by a demon. As Ember begins fighting off the security team, one of the women, Ilsa (Breanne Hill) tries to convince Henry that Ember is lying and that – is suspicious.

Security restrains Ember and Ilsa approaches him, tauntingly asking if he is looking for Maggie. Since Ember’s next line isn’t “who the hell is Maggie” it’s implied he knows who Maggie is. It’s then implied something happened to Ember’s son and that Maggie was involved because Ilsa taunts him saying that Maggie is sorry. 

When Ember demands to know where she is, Ilsa says she’s not there. Ember turns his attention to Henry and tells him to look out the window. Pulling a curtain, Henry is shocked to see his reflection oozing black liquid from his eyes. Shit hits the fan when Ilsa’s eyes go black revealing that she is the demon.

Breanna Hill as a demon in 2016's Incarnate
You know what? Not really a dealbreaker…

Ember and Henry make a run for it until they find themselves in a looping corridor. Ember demands Henry tell him his favorite color, (it’s green) and a green door suddenly appears allowing them to escape the corridor. The two end up in an all-green room with a window that Ember opens and tells Henry to jump out of in order to escape the possession. 

Ember pleads with Henry to jump out of the window but he’s a bit skeptical, especially when Ilsa arrives and says that Ember drugged him. Though she has black eyes, Ilsa appears to be convincing Henry until she sort of glitches? 

This causes Henry to nope out of the whole thing and he dives out of the window as Ilsa screams out for him, displaying her sharp teeth.

Back in the real world, Ember wakes up and it’s revealed he’s in a wheelchair… and he also looks like shit. Instead of the clean-cut look he had in Henry’s mind, Ember has long hair and looks like he needs at least 8 days of sleep. 

One of Ember’s assistants, Oliver (Keir O’Donnell) checks on Ember and both look over to Henry who vomits a black liquid as he wakes up, now demon-free. Later, at their home base, Oliver suggests Ember take a break from the reverse-inception exorcisms as his brain is starting to believe it’s real and he may end up trapped in someone’s mind.

Ember refuses and says that they can’t stop searching for Maggie. Now you might think Ember is obsessed with finding Maggie…

Ember is after a demon named Maggie in 2016's Incarnate
And you’d be right.

Ember’s other assistant, Riley (Emily Jackson) enters and informs Ember that a woman named Camillia from the Vatican is downstairs waiting to see him. Also, Oliver and Riley are both dressed in your stereotypical “goth” attire. Do screenwriters not know that there are other options for demon-hunting apparel; plaid, maybe?

Ember meets with Camilla (Catalina Sandino Moreno) who immediately offers him a suitcase full of cash if he agrees to help with Cameron’s exorcism. Ember refuses to help the church but doesn’t really give a reason for this. He only says that what he does isn’t tied to any religion and while the Vatican may call it a demon, other religions call it something else. To him, it’s just a parasitic entity.

Camilla says the parasitic entity is Maggie but Ember scoffs at this, stating that it isn’t the first time the Vatican has sent a beautiful woman with money to ask him for help. While he’s helped in the past, the entity never turns out to be Maggie and he’s no longer willing to do waste his time. 

Angered by this, Camilla gives him her card and tells him Cameron only has days to live as she leaves. Later Ember visits his rich eccentric mentor Felix (Thomas Arana) to ask if he’s heard of Maggie returning and possessing a child. Felix confirms it is Maggie and offers to show Ember how he learned it was her. 

Taking him to another room, Felix shows Ember a large, steel, completely sealed prison where he is keeping a possessed man and torturing him for information. Totally not weird at all. Also, Felix makes it a point to say that the chamber is unbreakable so that means it’s definitely going to break.

Felix then gives Ember a vial of C-79, a serum that Ember can inject himself with if Maggie possesses him. This will allow him to recontrol his body for 10 seconds giving him the time to kill himself and Maggie at the same time. Ember rejects the vial and says he doesn’t plan on dying… which is exactly what a character says when they’re definitely going to die later.

Thomas Arana as Felix reveals he has been torturing a demon in 2016's Incarnate
Why can’t old rich people have normal hobbies?

With confirmation that Maggie is the demon, Ember calls Camilla and agrees to help. The two arrive at Lindsey’s apartment and Ember tells her these entities put the possessed in a dream-like reality where they get everything they want. The only way to save them is to enter their mind and convince them that what they’re seeing is not real.

Ember says he’s going to enter Cameron’s mind and force the entity out but no one can touch Cameron until that happens. Maggie can switch hosts by touch but can only enter the weak, young, old, or ill. We also learn from Ember’s quick exposition speech, that once Maggie has been pushed out of Cameron, if she can’t find a host, she will die.

Lindsey asks if Ember has done this before and he whips out his phone to play her a video of another exorcism he was involved in… why was that video already queued up on his phone?

Carice Van Houten as Lindsey in 2016's Incarnate
“What the- just say yes next time!”

Possibly because she doesn’t want to see the other videos Ember has queued up on his phone, Lindsey agrees to let him see Cameron. Entering the room, Ember finds Cameron just sitting in the middle of the room, not looking possessed at all but then he talks. Ember asks what demon-Cameron wants but the demon refuses to reveal his plan this early in the movie.

In a demonic voice demon-Cameron reveals he knows who Ember is and recites a phrase in a different language. This phrase triggers a memory in Ember and based on that, we can insinuate that the demon in Cameron is in fact, Maggie. Also two minutes later he tells Camilla that it is Maggie and that he is leaving to get his team. 

Cut to Ember, not getting his team, and instead at home drinking in the dark, watching home videos of his family on mute. This is a movie’s way of saying, “Hey, the main character’s family is dead and he’s not happy about it.” The next day Ember finally gathers his team and, as they set up, Lindsey asks a bunch of questions about how it all works.

There are things you would expect, like cameras and screens to watch the footage but there’s also a machine that can detect the invisible energy that our brains give off. The machine can detect the unique pattern of energy the ions in our brain our sending and Ember’s team can distinguish between Ember’s energy and Cameron’s demon-infected energy. 

Conveniently Ember’s ball of ions is orange and Cameron’s is green with black spikes, the spikes are the demon. I call this machine the ‘Bullshit Brain Detector’, not sure what the movie calls it though.

Riley tells Lindsey how the system works in 2016's Incarnate
“We call it that too, but don’t tell Ember.”

Meanwhile, Oliver is prepping to put Ember to sleep since the ability to enter people’s subconscious is just something Ember was born with. But there’s a twist, Oliver has to put Ember as close to death as possible in order for the procedure to work and this only gives Ember 8 minutes to enter the subconscious, find the possessed, convince them, and extract the demon.

Just in case Ember flatlines Oliver is instructed to inject him with Narcan to wake him up. Are they using opioids or other drugs to put him to sleep? I don’t know and the movie doesn’t care to tell you.

Ember enters Cameron’s subconscious and finds him in a park playing catch with his dad, Dan (Matt Nable). Lindsey has been estranged from Dan since he got drunk and broke Cameron’s arm although he denies it. Ember approaches Cameron but before he can say anything, Cameron tells him he’s bleeding and Ember collapses.

Ember starts bleeding while in Cameron's subconscious in 2016's Incarnate
“Holy crap kid, you’re a detective… possibly the world’s greatest?”

In the real world, Ember starts convulsing and Oliver brings him back to reality with the Narcan. Later, Ember tells Lindsey of Cameron’s ideal reality where he is playing catch with Dan and suggests they bring Dan to help. 

Lindsey refuses but Ember yells that he is too close to catching Maggie and he is not giving up so she either tells them where Dan is or she loses Cameron. Basically, he yells out “WHERE IS HE?!”

After Lindsey tells him he’s at a bar, Ember and Camilla head there carrying no evidence at all that they know Lindsey or Cameron, not even a video. Ember attacks a drunk Dan and tells him Cameron is in trouble. Somehow this works as we cut to Lindsey’s house where a very concerned Dan watches the video feed of demon-Cameron just sitting in his room.

Ember tells Dan to enter the room and try to reach out to Cameron but to not touch him. Dan agrees and after calling out to Cameron, it seems to work as the real Cameron appears to wake up. Dan apologizes to Cameron for hurting him and then gets too close because it was all a trick! 

It was Maggie pretending to be Cameron! Maggie-Cameron breaks Dan’s arm and pins him to the ceiling with telekinetic powers. Ember tries to get Maggie-Cameron to stop but the demon just smiles and slams Dan to the ground killing him.

Ember watches as Cameron kills Dan in 2016's Incarnate
This is the extent of what Ember does… so he did his best?

Cut to a bit later with paramedics taking away Dan’s body and I can only assume every single detective and cop has the night off since there are no police anywhere. Not a single person is questioned as to why there’s a weird child being monitored in a room with a dead body.

A little while later, Lindsey confronts Ember on why he’s really helping Cameron and demands the truth or else she’ll kick him out. If you’re thinking we’re about to get some detailed backstory on Ember, his abilities, and his family, you’re mostly wrong. Ember says when he was 26 he learned he could enter the minds of the possessed and that’s all the movie wants to share about that.

After somehow learning that others who had the same ability had shitty lives, Ember decides to keep his ability a secret. Fast forward some random amount of years later and he has a wife and son. I can only assume they’re a happy family because they’re all smiling in the brief flashback. 

While on a drive, they’re hit by a drunk driver that Ember later learns is named Maggie. Both his wife and son are killed in the accident and Ember is left paralyzed. Before passing out from the accident, he looks over and sees Maggie who recites the same phrase Maggie-Cameron said earlier in the film. Ember learned Maggie targeted him due to his abilities and has been hunting for her ever since.

Lindsey asks why Maggie hasn’t just killed Ember after all this time and he replies, “there are fates worse than death.”

Lindsey learns of Ember's backstory in 2016's Incarnate
“Can you elaborate on anything, literally anything, you just said?”

Sometime later the green ball on Riley’s computer gets real black and this somehow means that Maggie is feeding off of Cameron’s life energy. Ember decides this is the perfect time to hightail it out of there to pick up something to defeat Maggie… why didn’t he do this earlier?

Hey, remember Felix? The old dude with the demon trapped in the unbreakable chamber that he was torturing for information? Well exactly what you expected to happen, happens. Ember visits Felix and discovers the demon broke out and possessed him. 

Ember is forced to kill his mentor and friend but there’s no time to dwell on that, in fact, Ember doesn’t seem to care at all. He grabs the vial of C-79 and leaves. Ember returns to Lindsey’s place and there’s a brief scene of Camilla trying to pull Ember off the case to instead put her people on it. Why is she doing this now?

Camilla asks what happens if he does evict Maggie and she jumps to another host. Ember says she won’t because Maggie only wants him. WHY? Where’s the proof? Ember has been hunting Maggie, not the other way around. 

Camilla randomly tries to stop Ember from helping Cameron in 2016's Incarnate
“Would you accept a ‘just trust me bro’ at this point in time?”

Ember asks Lindsey for an important item that he can use to convince Cameron that he’s not in the real world and she gives him Dan’s baseball ring that Cameron cherished. Hey, why didn’t Ember ask for this the first time? Oh right, we weren’t at the climax of the film yet.

Entering Cameron’s consciousness, Ember finds him at a fair with Dan who is actually Maggie. Ember successfully gets Cameron to realize Dan is not his real dad especially after Maggie-Dan reveals their black eyes and the two run. Ember then has Cameron create a blue door to an exit just as Maggie-Dan catches up to them.

The two escape through the door and return to reality but as everyone celebrates, Ember hears a child call him dad. The entire room shakes and Ember wakes up in a hospital. His wife and son run up to him and reveal that he’s been in a coma for three days. 

Obviously, this is the demon trying to trick Ember into believing the last few years of his life have been a dream while he was in a coma. There’s no way he would fall for this. 

Ember wakes up from a coma but it's a trick in 2016's Incarnate
He totally falls for it.

As the family leaves the hospital, Ember catches a glimpse of the clock and notices it hasn’t moved. In the real world, we see that Ember never saved Cameron and the two are still in the room. Realizing it’s all a trick, Ember tries to escape the illusion until he runs to a black room where Maggie is holding Cameron. 

Unfortunately, we only see Maggie’s arms so we have no idea what the demon/entity actually looks like. To save Cameron, Ember offers himself as a trade, and Maggie, for some reason, agrees. This doesn’t make sense because, once again, Maggie has not been shown to actually want to possess Ember.

In the real world, Cameron, now free of possession, wakes up and runs out of the room as Ember tries to fight Maggie for control. Riley injects the C-79 into Ember’s IV bag and he regains control. Crawling to the window, Ember throws himself through it in a very anti-climactic way. 

Four stories down, Ember lands and convulses, vomiting up a black liquid implying that Maggie is somehow dead. As the paramedics arrive, Ember loses consciousness and is pronounced dead. In the EMT van Camilla asks them to shock Ember again and he regains a pulse. 

Camilla grabs Ember’s hand and Ember flatlines. As Ember dies, it’s revealed Maggie is still alive and has transferred over to Camilla since she touched him. The film ends as Camilla reveals red eyes. This doesn’t make sense since earlier it was said that Maggie can only transfer to the sick, weak, or elderly and Camilla was not shown to be any of these.

Camilla is revealed to be possessed by Maggie in 2016's Incarnate
This might as well happen

Incarnate Spoiler Review:

Incarnate is not good. To be fair it’s not anywhere near the worst movie you could watch about demonic possession and it has some effective world-building. The dialogue is okay and entertaining in some scenes. 

The acting is nothing to write home about but no one does a bad job. It’s flat in some places but for characters like Ember, it kind of fits since he’s supposed to be a detached individual with only one agenda. So that kind of gets a pass, unfortunately, pretty much everything else about this movie has glaring problems. 

Besides Ember, Cameron, and a throwaway line about Oliver, you don’t learn or know anything about any of the other characters. They’re just there to help progress the story. Camilla is there to get Ember to Cameron, Riley and Oliver are there to help Ember, and Lindsey is there to ask questions that lead to exposition but I know nothing else about anyone. 

While the world in which this movie takes place could have been interesting the story beats/character actions for these characters don’t make sense. 

For example, before the climax of the movie, Dr. Ember decides to go get the poison from Felix because Maggie has started feeding on Cameron’s life energy. Moments before the feeding happens, Ember was just sitting there doing nothing, they all knew Cameron had days to live, and they all knew demons feed on energy so why did Ember wait so long to get the poison? What new motivation did he have that he didn’t have earlier in the film?

When he returns Camilla randomly wants to pull him off the case. It’s out of nowhere, random, and then doesn’t get brought up again at any point. She didn’t know about the poison, she didn’t know his plans, and she never showed that she doubted his ability to finish the job.

Even Maggie the Demon’s motivations don’t make sense, Ember says one line about Maggie targeting him because of his abilities and then it’s never expanded on. How did it find him? How did it learn of his abilities? Why is it targeting random people like Cameron? 

At one point Ember says Maggie hasn’t killed him because knowing he’s alive with nothing left is a fate worse than death, so why does Maggie agree to exchange his life for Cameron’s? Wouldn’t Maggie want to kill Cameron and then escape so Ember could fail at the one thing he had left?

Overall I can only recommend Incarnate if you’re looking to watch a movie that you’ll have on in the background and that you’ll never have to explain because once you do, you’ll realize all the bad parts about it. Also if you’ve been wondering what Aaron Eckhart has been up to in the last decade.


Stuff to Ignore

Rotten Tomatoes – 17%

Metacritic – 30

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