Incantation Movie Review-A Witch’s Brew of Horror-Lite Beauty
Incantation, written and directed by first-timer Jude S. Walko is a dark fantasy/lite horror movie heavy on atmosphere and gorgeous scenery.
I got an early look at Incantation starring Dean Cain, releasing July 31st, 2018 and it exceeded my hopes. To be honest I had very low expectations. I love Dean Cain of Lois and Clark and the nerd in me loved Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, but I was concerned this was a Lifetime movie cum horror story. I can assure you it was not. On the film festival circuit, it won quite a few awards for directing, originality and Cain’s acting(more on that later) so I was cautiously optimistic. I found it well done and intriguing if not terribly scary. With very little gore and one teeny tiny sex scene, this is a perfect introduction for those horror movies virgins or for those who don’t like to feel as if they are having a heart attack for ninety minutes. Full disclosure I watched with my twelve year who liked it. This movie is from newcomer Blue Falcon Productions a certified Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned business co-owned by Walko and Dan Campbell. With a strong first entry like this, I have no doubt there will be plenty more to come.
An eerie fairy tale combines the isolated cabin in the woods story with a classic occult cautionary tale. The film tells the story of Lucy Bellerose, a Youtube celebrity of sorts who has traveled to France to settle her Great Uncle’s estate. For reasons unclear, she is the one taxed with this job despite having living relatives who are much more familiar with the family member. Periodically she stops for selfies and films herself making banal and vacuous videos very much in keeping with current internet celebs. She calls her followers Lucites which I found hilarious and one of the smarter bits of writing. During her stay, she, of course, runs into all kinds of sundry weirdo’s from Cains’s smarmy insurance salesman to a more than bizarre Vicar Borley played by Walko himself, and a sweet french gravedigger(yes you heard that right). By the end of the movie, her idyllic vacation becomes a surreal nightmare and her very future is in question. This is a family with secrets and a string of dead bodies to prove it.
The film works for a number of reasons. This is not a groundbreaking experience like Hereditary, or a genre inventing film like The Blair Witch all those years ago, but it is a pleasant walk on the dark side. Not every movie needs to redefine the genre in order to be worth your time. Incantation is an ideal example of this. Walko does not do more than is necessary and feels no need to beat us over the head with creativity for creativity’s sake. It felt like a well-worn blanket, comfortable and safe while still amusing. Formulaic in a good way this film does not stray too far from conventional storytelling. Deliberate shout outs to historic horror icons Elizabeth Bathory, The Borley Church in England and the biblical story of brothers Cain and Abel(could Dean Cain be better named for this role?) are a tad too heavy-handed and only serve to muddle the story than provide anything new. The story is predictable but interesting and the acting and set are fantastic. This beautifully shot film is full of the amazing imagery you would expect from the French Countryside. What was unexpected was the very well done camera angle work, subtly creepy set dressing and quality acting performances from several of the actors. MXLLS
The camera work was really good, like surprisingly good. Filled with odd angles and excellent natural light usage this film looks like you are watching a much higher budget film than you really are. Walko’s use of the natural setting, but with an eye for the odd, perfectly captured the theme of the movie. Hearkening back to classic Gothic stories the setting is allowed to become a character as fully realized as the people. In particular, the lovely, majestic sweeping wide shots of the estate and grounds are amazing. The hyper green of the lush fields and the cold grey of the stonework combine seamlessly to deliver an unsettling image that delights and well as disquiets the watcher. Light and shadow are used to highlight the harshness and danger in this dazzling piece of the past. Several of the scenes inside the endless serpentine decaying halls of the manor were reminiscent of Kubrick’s The Shining. Strange quick cuts help lurch the viewer from one disturbing scene to the next. As things really start to go south for Lucy the camera work adjusts from majestic sweeping shots to erratic and abrupt changes in perspective. Dean Cain and Sam Valentine are great. Cain does pleasantly evil faultlessly and his brand of all American guy serves him well in his role of amicable salesman who is anything but innocent. Valentine is attractive and likable even in the face of her annoying fame and self-obsession. Her snark and confusion is both believable and funny. The other performances are rather wooden and one dimensional with Walko himself being an enigma. His Vicar Borley is one weird cat. The outlandish behavior and look of his Vicar is bizarre and the one truly scary thing about the film. The remainder of the cast is functional without standing out in any way.
Along with the phenomenal location, the music is stellar. Haunting and memorable it is an incredible addition to this film. Blood Red Roses by C21fx is old school horror music at its best. As pretty as it is creepy. In Hell I’ll Be In Good Company by The Dead South is lilting and melodic and entirely fresh. The other music is very strong but it is with the two preceding songs that the score really shines. Fans of soundtrack-heavy horror films which immerse the watcher in oppressive sounds and macabre visual cues like The Fog(1980) will appreciate the use of the score. Some really cool makeup, unbroken symbolism, and costuming round out a list of positives.
My only major complaint with this film is the clunky dialogue. Unnecessarily complicated and ornate word choices were used frequently by our characters for no apparent reason. Perhaps they were to hint at the ancientness of the unholy trio, but the formal word usage did not go far enough to establish time if that was the intent. If you ignore the dialogue and focus on the story and scenery it is a mesmerizing tale of family secrets and profane promises. There is a lot to like in this film with just a few missteps. A nod to dark fairy tales this is a welcome blast from the past that scares with tension and atmosphere more than gore and jump scares.