(A.k.a. INKARNACIJA [original title])

Covek (Stojan Djordjevic) wakes up one afternoon on a bench in the centre of an unspecified city square. He's disorientated and has no memory of where he is, or even what his name may be. As he staggers confused through the street trying to get the attention of busy passers-by, he's suddenly hit in the left shoulder by a bullet. Before he knows it, he's been surrounded by four sharp-suited figures in faceless white masks who proceed to gun him to death.

The screen goes black. And then, we fade in to ... Covek, waking up one afternoon on a bench in the centre of an unspecified city square.

This time, he anticipates his assailants' arrival, and makes off down a back alley where he's able to hide behind a cluster of bins. However, his conscience gets the better of him when he realises the gunmen have taken a pretty consumer, who just happened to be walking past, as a hostage: Covek surrenders himself rather than seeing her die and is duly executed. Again.

... Only for him to wake up on that aforementioned bench for a third time. Covek's narration confirms that he has no recollection of how he first got there, or what the Hell is going on. This time, he sets off in a different direction to his last waking nightmare but the masked assassins soon catch up with him. He flees them, only to trip and fall straight into a lamppost. Concussed, he next wakes up in a hospital bed.

At the hospital, a woozy Covek tries to find his way out of the place while a world-weary cop (Tihomir Stanic) and young medic attempt to detain him for more tests. It transpires that they discovered, while he was unconscious, that there is an unidentifiable element in his blood. The plot thickens.

However, before they can persuade Covek to allow them to perform more tests - or, indeed, probe him any further about his identity - those masked gunmen turn up and shoot everyone dead. Yet again.

Which brings us back to, you guessed it, Covek waking up on the bench. This time, Covek tries running in another direction ...

And so, INCARNATION continues. Its time-loop mechanics quickly recalls the likes of GROUNDHOG DAY, SOURCE CODE and TIMECRIMES, but the film manages to retain its own aura of mystery thanks to an intriguing opening premise and the successful drip-feeding of additional clues tossed to us as events progress. The brick wrapped in newspaper, which Covek discovers taped to the underside of the bench; the mobile 'phone and box of matches which he carries on him during each "episode"; the doctor (Zarko Stepanov) he discovers in a shifty apartment ...

There are other things keen-eyed viewers will notice from an early juncture too, scenarios which are repeated with accurate recreative skills throughout the film. The woman chasing a handbag thief through the streets in the background, the street urchins who initially jolt Covek by pelting him with pebbles, and so on.

Director Filip Kovacevic has a strong eye for continuity and detail, as well as bringing an aesthetic eeriness to Belgrade by capturing its bustling city centre in unusual instances of quietness. The manner in which Covek's very public executions are met with only slight disdain from onlookers is oddly effective too, in its own surreal, nightmarish manner.

With strong performances and agreeable cinematography, INCARNATION belies its meagre budget and emerges as a handsome production with plenty of interesting ideas (the screenplay was co-written by Kovacevic, with Masa Senicic and Ivan Stancic), a beguiling central concept and a welcome amount of visual flair from the clearly gifted director.

For a feature directorial debut from someone who was just 27 when it was released in 2016, INCARNATION shows a lot of promise. Sure, it has its flaws (it sags a little in the mid-section; the twist, while not what I'd predicted, was unfortunately lacking in impact; there's little subtext to be gleamed from what's on screen - it is what it is), and the whole thing would've played better as a short film. But there's considerable scope here for the young Kovacevic to hone his skills and become a major filmmaker.

INCARNATION is out now on UK DVD from Matchbox Films. We were sent an online screener for review purposes.

The film looks great in a clean, clear and very slick 16x9 transfer. Clearly shot on HD equipment, the daylight photography and sharp editing benefit greatly here. Serbian 2.0 audio is similarly problem-free, while the English subtitles in evidence were well-written and easy to read at all times.

Another good genre flick from Serbia (following the likes of A SERBIAN FILM and THE LIFE AND DEATH OF A PORNO GANG). Well worth checking out.

Review by Stuart Willis

Released by Matchbox Films