Lucy Bellerose, Sam Valentine (South32, Trace) is a young American social influencer whose uncle recently passed away, leaving her to care for his castle in a French village near Paris.
There, in the vast and mysterious castle, she meets a gallery of suspicious characters: a cryptic vicar, Jude S. Walco (Breakout, Black Beauty), (also writer/director of the film), an emotionless maid, Beatrice Orro, and a charismatic salesman, Dean Cain (The New Adventures Of Superman (TV), Out Of Time), all growing more and more mysterious as Lucy learns from the local gravedigger Jean-Pierre, Dylan Kellogg, a young and handsome French man, the gruesome tales and legends attached to the castle and her family.
If the beats of this story sound familiar, it is because writer/director Jude S. Walco resurrected classic gothic tropes to create the story of The Incantation: a young woman, a vast castle, a foreign land, tales of religious sins and devil’s curses, characters that seem to exist between life and death, all are staples of a genre that isn’t very popular today but could benefit from a revival.
Unfortunately, Walco’s writing isn’t strong enough to carry such an idea. First of all, there is too much exposition, which not only slows the movie down but also become repetitive as all of the exposition scenes serve the same purpose: establish the Bellerose family’s (and its castle) bad reputation.
Listening to character narrate a story isn’t particularly engrossing, and it becomes even less so if it happens over and over again with practically the same stories.
Ironically, despite all the dialogues, there are still questions left unanswered and entire scenes that are unexplained. Most of those scenes provide great horrific imagery (although not very original ones), but these imageries never connect well enough to the overall plot.
Another writing issue, although it could be considered a minor one, is the writing of the French characters. While it is a cinematic convention to have people with a foreign language still speak a perfect or quasi-perfect English, the dialogues recited by the French characters are overwritten – they would feel awkward and fake in the mouth of an English-speaking character, so they become even more implausible when pronounced with a French accent by characters who, according to the movie itself, don’t know English that well.
On the opposite side of this, there is a ridiculous dialogue scene where Jean-Pierre doesn’t know who Dracula and Frankenstein are, as if the worldwide impact of these two fictional characters somehow hadn’t touched a young French man who’s open enough to the world to have mastered English.
These are details, but they add to an already imperfect plot. Because the writing is bad and the dialogue is stilted, the actors struggle to bring their characters to life and the entire movie suffers.
Only Sam Valentine was apparently allowed to show emotions, as every other actor stays completely emotionless. While it is a conscious choice for some (the maid, for example), it certainly doesn’t look to be for others: Jean-Pierre particularly, a character grounded in reality who is supposed to create an emotional and intimate connection with the protagonist but looks apathetic throughout the entire runtime.
Dean Cain, the most seasoned actor of the cast, is the most convincing but the material isn’t good enough to bring a truly great performance from him – which could be said for all of the actors.
Nevertheless, one thing the movie has to its advantage are the sets and scenery: everything was filmed on location, with a real castle and other really great finds.
Jude S. Walco fully uses everything he has at his disposition: a wide and dark forest, an old graveyard, a small cabin in the middle of the woods, long and barely lit corridors where you can’t help but always look behind the shoulders of the protagonist, and even more great places that really create and carry the atmosphere and believability of the movie.
Sadly, this atmosphere is accompanied by Daniel Lepervanche’s score that almost entirely consists of tense and loud crescendo pieces used again and again to make the viewer feel on edge. This is a cheap technique that is so overused that it ends up downplaying the real suspense on screen.
When it started, the movie had promise. There is a particularly great scene during the introduction where Lucy takes a taxi from Paris to her uncle’s castle: the film slowly takes us from bright, sunny, colorful Paris to empty roads hidden in the shades of tall, dark trees and small villages full of old, broken Catholic statues under a cloudy grey sky.
This encapsulated perfectly the gothic horror The Incantation was going for, and did so without long dialogues or overbearing music but instead by letting the scenery take over and slowly and organically create a compelling and tense atmosphere.
This could have been The Incantation had it not had been riddled with flaws, mainly from the script.
This is, however, Jude S. Walco’s very first feature-film as both writer and director (with only two other writing/directing credits to his name), which could explain these problems and makes us hopeful that should he choose to make another feature film, it will be a better one.