Terrifying found-footage videos, bloody possessions, inexplicable hauntings, and a desperate mother all come together to make Incantation Taiwan’s highest-grossing film opening of 2022.
Li Ronan (Tsai Hsuan-yen) is part of a “ghostbusters” team that films paranormal events in order to debunk them. However, when a secretive cult strictly forbids them from filming their rituals, Ronan and her crew resort to scouring the area for any useful footage. They soon discover unnerving artifacts and a mysterious tunnel that the cult had gone to great lengths to conceal.
Fast forward about six years, Ronan is now a single mother trying to raise a precocious daughter. But lately, her daughter has begun “seeing” things in her room at night, and seems to be playing with invisible beings. Perpetually hounded by fear, Ronan soon realizes that all of this is payback for the taboos she had broken while filming the cult all those years ago. Can she still spare her daughter from the suffering brought about by her own recklessness? Or will it be too late for both of them?
Incantation is a mockumentary horror movie directed by Kevin Ko that explores the power of taboo and belief. Using “found footage” from various sources — old camcorders, cellphone video recordings, CCTV footage — Ko roughly sews together various scenes and clues that help us unravel the mystery behind the haunting of Ronan’s daughter. Just when we thought that we’ve exhausted the found footage genre, Ko’s creativity reminds us that it’s still a great storytelling format, especially when combined with other old-skool genres and the eternal fear of karma and reckoning. Incantation also does a good job in covering a fair amount of familiar horror ground, and fans of Insidious, Ju-on, and even Shutter may spot some unnerving nods every now and then.
While getting to the heart of the haunting is a bit wayward and sometimes confusing, Ko does manage to pepper every other scene with some truly terrifying bits to keep us pretty intrigued nonetheless. The quiet scenes are nicely balanced with some surprisingly bloody and gruesome parts for the shock factor, so there’s a fair amount of blood for fans who like their horror red and raw.
Incantation does get more unnerving the more it hurls toward the finale, and Ko manages to keep the palpably ominous energy up for a large part of the film. While there are a few slow spots and some lapses of logic, admittedly, it’s still a ton of fun whether you manage to finish the film or not. Save for the nice twist in the end, Incantation doesn’t really break new ground, but newbies and the non-horror fans are going to love the creepiness that seriously gets under the skin and will keep you up for a couple of nights, at the very least.
The best parts of Incantation are fueled by some very well-placed visual jolts, some major jump scares, an ominous twist, and a fine performance by Tsai Hsuan-yen. All in all, the movie earns big points for creatively combining found footage horror with ancient curse tropes while still remaining very much a touching tale of a mother's love.
Stream if: You are a fan of Asian horror, Taiwanese filmmaking, or the found footage genre. Or even if you’re just curious to see why a horror movie would be such a blockbuster.
Skip if: You get freaked out by gore, holes, Insidious-style hauntings, and anything religious. But I personally suggest giving it at least 10 minutes before you decide to give up.
Available on Netflix