Taiwan’s new horror film Incantation (2022) takes a mockumentary found-footage approach to the story of a mother seeking to protect her child from the curse she unleashed six years before.
This review of the Netflix film Incantation (2022) does not contain spoilers.
“Do you believe in such things as blessings?” the opening narration of Incantation (2022) asks the audience. The Taiwanese horror film directly involves the viewer in its exploration of blessings and curses as a mother attempts to save her child. Directed by Kevin Ko and written by Ko and Chang Che-wei, the film uses a found-footage, documentary approach to chronicle its disturbing story. Incantation was released in Taiwan in March 2022 but is now available internationally on Netflix.
The story of the film was inspired by a 2005 incident in Kaohsiung, Taiwan in which a family claimed that they had been possessed by folk demons and which resulted in the eldest daughter’s death. In the film, Ronan (Tsai Hsuan-yen) has finally recovered enough from the events six years before to take custody of her daughter Dodo (Huang Sin-ting), who has been living in a foster home. However, Dodo is soon affected by strange “baddies” and becomes dangerously ill.
Flashbacks to six years before reveal that Ronan was once part of a ghostbusters YouTube channel alongside her boyfriend Dom (Sean Lin) and his cousin Yuan (Wen Ching-yu). They went to a remote village to see a Chen clan ritual, worshiping a god called Buddha-Mother. As the film unfolds, the audience learns more about the curse that they triggered with their trip there and how it is still affecting Ronan and those around her.
The film utilizes its mockumentary format to draw the audience in and make them feel involved. At one point, Ronan even asks the viewers to say a blessing with her. This breaking of the fourth wall, while not necessarily anything new in the horror genre, does help make the story more engaging. The project is framed as a plea for help for Ronan’s daughter, and Dodo is cute enough to tug on the audience’s heartstrings.
Incantation is full of frightening images and some body horror but is more unsettling than scary because of its disjointed editing and pacing. The film is overly long and becomes somewhat boring in the middle and the out-of-chronology format is confusing, making it difficult to keep track of what’s happening at times. There are a handful of truly scary sequences, particularly towards the end of the film, but those looking for a slasher film will be disappointed as much of the horror revolves around the religious cult and mysterious bugs.
The performances from the whole cast are serviceable, but none stand out as truly exceptional. The same statement could be applied to the film as a whole. It’s at its best when it’s interested in the core story of a mother being reunited with the daughter that she could not care for because of her collapsed mental state and her determination to finally care for her. However, Ko doesn’t seem quite certain how to balance this with the horror elements making Incantation a decent, but unmemorable watch.
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