REVIEW: The Incantation
– By MovieCritic NextDoor
It’s a common staple of fairy tales, rags to riches stories, and daydreamers everywhere: the sudden discovery of a wealthy, long-lost relative who leaves you a fortune, or at least a grand, isolated mansion. In the case of Lucy Bellerose (Sam Valentine) in The Incantation, it’s a great-uncle that she’d never met, for the very simple reason that she was growing up in the United States while he was living in a grand, isolated mansion in France. Now that he’s passed on, however, Lucy and her mother are going there for the funeral and to see if they’re rich.
Except Lucy’s mother never puts in an appearance at House Branley (actually Dunderry Castle) for some reason, which Lucy dismisses as typical behavior but seems bizarrely neglectful. This isn’t forgetting to stop at the store; this is not remembering a family funeral. There is someone there to meet Lucy — namely, the local vicar (Alexis Gueroult) — but he’s both stern and seriously creepy. When he first started to introduce himself I thought he was going to say he was Rasputin. There’s certainly a resemblance. But though neither he nor the maid, Mary (Beatrice Orro) are the most welcoming sorts, they’re all the company Lucy has.
That is, until she meets Jean-Pierre (Dylan Kellogg), aka JP. He’s the local gravedigger (!), but he’s nice and cute and of course has the charming French accent going for him, so Lucy is certainly interested. And he has stories about her family’s history that also catch her interest, even though the stories are dark and awful. Then Lucy meets Abel Baddon (Dean Cain), who claims to be a lost insurance salesman. I didn’t think there were door to door salesmen left anywhere, let alone in the French countryside. It doesn’t seem practical. But a little of that Clark Kent charm can go a long way, I imagine, even though Abel does have some strange philosophical ideas about life and death.
And other strange things are happening as well. Lucy frequently catches glimpses of a mysterious little girl (Caroline Gatouillat) in a white dress roaming in the woods near the house. JP dismisses this and other odd events, trying to reassure Lucy, but he also seems concerned that she’s in over her head and appoints himself her protector despite her protests. JP might also be in over his head, however, and as the mystery of the house and Lucy’s family deepens, the stakes get higher.
Filmed entirely in France, the film has a gorgeous, almost fairy tale look that hovers somewhere between “quiet, relaxing countryside” and “deeply haunted”. There’s a great sense of history about the locations, including some claustrophobic catacombs, and the build of horror is handled well — Lucy has some nightmares that are very creepily filmed, for instance, and there’s a great understated use of special effects to add a little more menace.
The script unfortunately relies a little too much on unlikely coincidences and perfect timing — for instance, the house is huge and sometimes it takes forever to find someone else… except when it’s really necessary to find someone quickly, in which case characters run into each other almost at once. But the cast is excellent, well-cast and with some good acting, particularly from Dean Cain and Beatrice Orro. I also liked the backstory and how it was revealed, and the ending has a nicely unsettling twist. Her trip is the stuff of fairy tales for Lucy, but not all such tales have happy endings.