A young American girl has a chance of a lifetime to visit her ancestors castle in the south of France, only to find that her family is hiding deep, dark secrets about their nefarious past, far away from prying eyes.
Jude S. Walko
Jude S. Walko
In the opening moments of the new film The Incantation, we’re introduced to a social media icon (in her own mind, perhaps) named Lucy Bellerose (Sam Valentine) as she arrives in Paris – en route to her recently deceased great uncle’s lavish castle in the French countryside. Apparently, she’s to meet her mother there, and attend the funeral services – then she will inherit the sprawling home and property. When she arrives, she’s greeted by a chambermaid named Mary (Beatrice Orro), a local vicar (writer/director Jude S. Walko), a friendly gravedigger named J.P. (Dylan Kellogg) and a smooth-talking insurance salesman named Abel Baddon (Lois & Clark’s Dean Cain). As Lucy explores the property and nearby small village, she’ll begin to uncover some dark family secrets.
As a whole, the acting is really quite terrible. So many (read: most) of the supporting players are painfully wooden. In important supporting roles you have Beatrice Orro as the chambermaid and Dylan Kellogg as love interest J.P. – both of whom rack up the most lackluster line delivery offenses of anyone. Head-shakingly bad.
As for the only name present here, Dean Cain should know better. Sorry to say, but everything he does in The Incantation appears to be phoned in. He looks terribly bored, and because of that, the audience suffers through this uninterested performance.
The only exception is the work from Sam Valentine in the lead role. While she has zero support from this dreadful script – you can tell she’s putting in a concerted effort to make it work. She’s most engaging in the film’s introduction. And while the character is not particularly pleasant, Valentine is quirky and her snarky delivery of such lines as “The French really are rude” get you on her side pretty quickly. But as the script fails overtime, so then does her performance.
The locations are captivating and any filmmaker would be envious of access to these grand and picturesque locations. A monster-sized castle, creepy catacombs and lush forests. A truly great location find and score!
But other than a few outdoor shots (the presence of a drone to capture said shots was borderline overused), the lighting of the castle’s vast interiors was pancake-flat. The entire climax, including scenes in the aforementioned catacombs, and in an airy church altar – had absolutely no atmospheric lighting. Even if there was no daylight present, that’s seemingly what the cinematographer and lighting team set out to do. It’s a horror film for heaven’s sake, set the right mood!
The story is a big muddy mess. There’s that common complaint that a piece of cinema will “tell” a story, rather than “show” it. It’s a visual medium, so long scenes of people spouting off exposition while seated across from one another; just can’t work. And the fact that this film would offer up exposition (in the most mediocre way possible) and then go a few scenes before doing the exact same thing with different characters, is frankly irritating.
And the flower girl scene (I’ll admit, flowers are a major symbol in the story-line) not only repeated the idea that “the castle is bad and the people who have lived there are bad”, but was presented by the worst actress in the film, along with some painful dubbing. This scene (along with so many others) was pointless and did absolutely nothing to push the story forward.
I’ve said this before – it’s always fascinating to find a score working overtime to attempt to build some modicum of suspense or danger. But the work from Daniel Lepervanche seems to take the cake as far as the most desperate. It’s not bad music per se (although I was not a fan personally), but it became too obvious – a distraction – and quite clear that it’s purpose was to mask a flailing story-line and slow pace. Of note: when one of the characters actually says the words, “The Incantation”, there’s an over-powering and wholly inappropriate “sting” music cue. No.
The editing and continuity is atrocious. There were examples of terrible work here – all over the place, but the bar scene is a prime example. When Lucy orders a drink, it’s the following shot where she downs the drink. Did it magically appear in her hand? And in the climax, it was noticeable that Dean Cain was in one pose, in a different spot of the room, and a shot later, he’s adjusted his position and is further away from the main character.
And in one of the many establishing shots (heck, I too would try to take advantage of every moment I could with a property like this!), there’s a giant full moon over the mansion, and a pending rainstorm in the distance. We hear rain sounds, but never see anything falling from the sky. And this exact same shot is reused later on. But somewhere in between this repetition, there’s another shot of the mansion at night, in a mostly cloudless sky and no full moon.
I’ll admit that even good films make mistakes like this, but when these missteps are rampant throughout, you can’t help but tag the piece as “amateurish”.
On top of these stumbles, one of the extras in the bar scene – blessed with a few lines of dialogue – looks right at the camera. Things like this are true indicators that there has been no attention to detail paid.
Questions left unanswered: Who is the old woman in the wheelchair? What exactly are the people in the house – based on what they search for (so far as I understand it) and what happens in the film’s final reveal (an obvious shout-out to Kubrick’s The Shining)? I don’t want to ask the question directly, for fear of spoilers, but it certainly requires an answer.
And with so much left unclear by the end credits, my earlier usage of “Huh?” is apt.
Story-telling lesson learned here: Establish the rules. Make them clear, focused, as original as possible and brief. Follow them. And this is just the beginning of the many problems to be found in The Incantation.
With the slightest of whispers of a good lead performance from Sam Valentine and some remarkable and drool-worthy locations out of the French countryside – you’ll find little else to recommend about The Incantation.
The film is currently on the festival circuit and scheduled for release in August 2018.