A young man (Stojan Djordjevic) wakes up on a bench in the middle of the day with no memory of who he is or how he came to be here – at a crossroads in a pedestrian precinct, with people all around and city life continuing. Then four men in suits, sporting white masks and carrying guns, walk towards him, obviously intent on assassination. He flees – and the rest of the city barely takes any notice as he’s hunted down and killed … and then wakes up again, back on the bench, with three untaken directions as escape options, and the cycle continues.
A Serbian film – scripted by Masa Senicic, Ivan Stancic and director Filip Kovacevic – Incarnation is an entry in the time-loop stakes, following Groundhog Day, 12.01, Source Code and a host of others. Informed, like Run Lola Run, by the get-killed-and-try-again conventions of computer games, it does better by its mystery than its solution – though it’s notable that Groundhog Day, for instance, realises any concrete explanation would be less satisfying than dealing with the protagonist’s situation literally on a moment to moment basis. There are revelations in the later iterations of the chase, but they aren’t really important since the film concentrates on the minutiae of its urban gameboard, with canny marshalling of extras and locations, and action film-style fights and confrontations.
The recurring set-up is more suggestive of a bad dream than time travel, in that the daylit world seems to ignore the four masked killers stalking the protagonist, but there’s a nice sense of the options narrowing as each escape attempt ends in death and return to the bench … forcing the protagonist eventually to try the counterintuitive tacks of running in the direction from which the killers are coming (realising that they aren’t in on the reset as he is) or just sitting there and awaiting fate. It’s short enough not to get tiresome, and builds cleverly on throwaways – an out of place brick is crucial – but is a little too much like an extended Twilight Zone episode to register as strongly in its sub-gerne as, say, the Spanish Cronocrimenes (Time Crimes) or the Hungarian Hurok (Loop). That said, Kovacevic is clearly a smart filmmaker and a talent to watch – what’s most memorable about the film is the way it makes a busy patch of Belgrade seem like a surrealist nightmare playground.