Now Streaming - The Incantation (2018) - Reviewed

Themes of familial identity and personal agency form a turbulent heart at the center of Jude Walko's feature directorial debut, The Incantation.  What initially appears as another low budget thriller reveals itself to be a cleverly constructed, surreal journey into the beyond.  Featuring a dynamic central performance among a deliciously awkward ensemble and gorgeous set design, this is a perfectly disjointed retelling of a familiar tale.

Lucy travels to France to pay respects to her deceased relative, where, within an austere manse, she begins to discover unspeakable secrets about her lineage.  As Lucy is drawn further into the shadows, she begins to understand that otherworldly forces are vying for control of her soul.  One of the things about Walko's seemingly innocuous script is his love for the genre.  The Incantation is as if someone pillaged the vaults of the 80's and placed all of its iconic B movies into a blender and pressed puree.  The characters are strange, bordering on hilarious, and yet there is an undeniable sense of dread that washes over everything.  Walko focuses on atmosphere, toning down the violence in favor of grim suppositions and puzzling sequences of dialogue.  While this breaks with the conventions of some of the film’s inspirations, it also pays homage to the weird fever dreams of late night cable. 

Sam Valentine gives an admirable performance as Lucy.  Her transformation from clueless American to amateur detective and then finally to violent rebel is easily Incantation's greatest surprise.  At its core this is a film about control and breaking cycles of abuse and while Valentine isn't always successful, her understanding of Malko's vision is apparent in each of her scenes.  Dean Cain has an interesting supporting turn as Abel Baddon, a devious salesman who harries Lucy throughout the mansion.  It's refreshing to see Cain chewing the scenery in an atypical role and for the most part, it works.

Derek Street's cinematography has a luminous quality that sets it apart from similar films.  While other movies would overindulge in shadows to hide the constraints of their budgets, Street's choice of lighting in certain scenes is commendable, highlighting the architectural splendor of the estate while exposing the natural beauty of the Loire Valley.  The final ingredient is Boontawee Thor Taweepasas' intricate production design.  Clues to the true nature of Lucy's ordeal are dappled throughout the presentation, hidden on walls and within pictures.  The placement of items with respect to the blocking of the cast yields interesting results, particularly during the quiet Armageddon of the finale.  

Coming soon to digital on demand, The Incantation initially appears to be a film you've seen countless times: Hapless American female journeys to a remote location to be ravaged by the inexplicable.  However, beyond the mundane veneer lies a story created by an artist who has a passion for the darkness that pervades everyday life and a clear understanding of the horror genre and all of its potential.  While the small production value may be a turn off for some, die-hard fans of creepy, mind bending stories will find much to adore.  

--Kyle Jonathan