A man wakes up in a square of an unknown city again and again, after each failed attempt to escape four masked assassins. Through the never ending chase, he tries to recover his identity, and find out who set him up.
Ever have one of those days? Perhaps – but the lead character in this next film – has got you beat!
Take some elements from Harold Ramis’ comedy classic Groundhog Day (minus the comedy) and mix it up with the German mind-blowing Run Lola Run and you’ve got the Serbian film Incarnation – holding its US premiere at the 16th Annual Screamfest in Los Angeles. It’s a film with a message – basically that you cannot escape what you’ve done or who you are.
A young man named Covek (Stojan Djordjevic) wakes up on a park bench in the middle of an unnamed city’s town square. It’s bustling and he has no idea who he is, or even what he looks like. No one is willing to help him and within minutes, he is relentlessly pursued by four gun-wielding men in bizarre white masks and black suits. He is killed. But seconds later, he wakes up on the same bench, with no indication of injury. Was it a dream? But everything – including specific passersby – is the same. And then the apparent assassins return. Thus begins a vicious and terrifying loop as the young man gets further and further in each incarnation of this strange event; eventually learning the truth about why he is there, who he is and why these men will stop at nothing to see him dead.
Automatically, any film with a non-linear story like this, which requires repeat events (literally dozens of times) gets high marks for keeping it consistent. Admittedly, the film’s break-neck speed doesn’t allow the viewer to pinpoint any potential holes in the film’s continuity, but on a first, fever-pitch viewing, you won’t care. Just go along for the ride.
Some of the stunt-work (one specific tumble down a curved staircase is just harrowing) and street chases will leave you breathless. It seems quite obvious from some of the pedestrians passing by in the background, that the film was shot guerilla-style – since reactions appear realistic and the people openly gawk. It all works however, since our lead character stumbles and generally appears shaken up and confused. Obviously, when the gunfire begins, those extras were in on the joke. The openness and busy-ness of these many scenes lends authenticity and presents extra levels of danger as the frequent gunshots ring out. It’s all very well done.
The film is what I like to term a mind-fuck. It is repetitive by nature (some of the latter “start up again” moments became tedious) but eventually veers off into plenty of new ground and new locations. Of note, a tremendously gorgeous sequence in an open field of rolling hills and sparse trees, as our lead character finally finds some brief respite – only to be bombarded by heavy rainfall and eventual discovery. It’s shot so beautifully and the placement of the characters in the frame as our lead spins around – is really breathtaking.
Later still, a chase (the entire film is basically an epic chase scene) through some dark tunnels offers plenty of opportunity to use shadow and light to great effect. The images of the character’s pursuers at the far end of a black tunnel, are truly frightening.
The big reveal isn’t as grand or mysterious as you might hope. You’ll get plenty of ideas as various memories begin to flood our lead character’s mind – and additional clues are left each time he jerks awake on that rickety bench. But again – although you might find your early predictions come to fruition, it’s still a wild ride worth taking.
I loved the overall structure of the character’s journey. He starts each sequence in the town square, and that area has four distinct streets leading in each direction. So as he discovers no answers down one, the next time he abruptly wakes up on the bench, the obvious direction to go is the down the street he’s not yet taken. It’s an ingenious way to create suspense and tension – especially after knowing what lies down the long streets he’s already traversed. What could possibly be waiting for him down the third or fourth route?
As our mysterious and very lost lead character Covek, Stojan Djordjevic is dynamic in both his physicality and in some of the more emotional moments. It’s not much more than running and acting frightened and confused, but Djordjevic pulls it off. And with not a lot of history for the character – except for the film’s big reveal – we’re completely on board with his plight. And even though we know so very little, the film’s very structure allows us to sympathize with his complete frustration and thoughts of “where and how does this end?”
As you’d expect from a film so akin to Run Lola Run, editing is immensely important for a film like this. The constant craziness of the camera and the story – never cease to impress. There’s little time for niceties and as things progress, you’ll know just how long Covek has before the masked men arrive… again. On that same token, it’s nice to see a film like this with no filler. At a brisk 82 minutes, it’s the perfect length to keep our interest (aside from the aforementioned “extra” incarnations on the bench). Anything more than what we were given, would have been detrimental to the film’s flow and power. Wise choice to keep it slim.
With a very exciting pace and an intriguing (if infuriating) journey for the lead character, Incarnation is a quick and slick gem of ingenuity, creativity and intensity.
Incarnation is playing over and over again (like the story itself) at film festivals around the world, including London’s Raindance Film Festival. However, no official release dates for the US or eventual DVD/VOD have been announced.