A young mother fights to save her child from a blasphemous curse in Kevin Ko’s found footage horror.

“Hou ho xiu yi si sei wu ma.”

Do you believe in blessings? That’s the question posed at the very beginning of Incantation by its lead character Li Ronan (Tsai Hsuan-yen), a woman who has put together the film you’re about to watch in hopes that you will help bless her child. Surprise! The film you’re watching is interactive, sort of.

See, six years ago violated “a terrible taboo” while visiting a remote village with her boyfriend Dom (Sean Lin) and his brother Yuan (RQ), as part of their ghost busting YouTube channel. The village is about to perform an annual rite, and Li, despite not being a member of the family (which Don and Yuan are), is reluctantly invited. However, the trio’s desire for ghost busting content puts them at odds with the villagers, and when Dom and Yuan break into a forbidden tunnel, things are never quite the same again.

In the present day, Li has recovered from the mental damage of that trip, and feels comfortable enough to take custody of her child Dodo (Huang Sin-ting). Things begin well enough, but quickly a curse that has been unleashed upon Li manifests itself, targeting her daughter.

As a horror, Incantation kicks things off with a bang, immediately building tension and horror the moment Dodo returns home. And while some scares a bit rote at this point (a child seeing people in a room that may or may not be there), director Kevin Ko adds a few twists here and there to keep things fresh. Throwing in some high quality scares so early in the film is necessary, as Incantation needs to keep its audience’s attention during some of the weaker, more dramatic moments.

With pacing that reminds me somewhat of Ringu, most of the film’s second half revolves more around storytelling. With help from a friendly ally (in this case foster home headmaster Ming (Kao Ying-hsuang)), the truth is slowly uncovered, with the contents of the corrupt video finally being retrieved and – naturally – screened for the audience. After a point it never gets massively scary again (though it has its moments), but the film does stay engaging throughout, held together by some tight editing, clever uses of the found footage format, and some top tier acting.

Ko includes a few extra elements that I’ve not seen within the found footage horror subgenre, and the most interesting of this comes right at the beginning, when Li asks us to join in with the mantra at the top of the review. It’s a fun addition to the film that not only gives its found footage medium actual meaning but comes into play right at end in a way that I couldn’t possibly spoil here. Secondly, Ko’s choice to sprinkle the flashback sequences throughout not only makes for some gripping mystery storytelling, but adds fresh scares and narrative to the movie whenever it threatens to get a bit boring. Everything in that village is Silent Hill-levels of eerie.

Ko also never lets the format restrict what he wants to film, throwing in probably way too many camera angles than is realistic for any one room, but one that nevertheless works. I’m willing to suspend my disbelief that the camera quality is consistent throughout (even in bunny nanny cams and 2014 handheld camcorders in the middle of the night) and completely steady even when characters are running around all over the place if it means we get to see the action in a way that doesn’t make me want to throw up. Sometimes fidelity of format isn’t as important as telling a good narrative. Thanks to some clever uses of the genre, Incantation ends up being a lot better than I imagined it would have and in this day of cheap dime-a-dozen horrors, that’s a blessing in itself.

Verdict: A great cast, tight storytelling and some genuine thrills allows Incantation to stand above many of its ilk, certainly worthy of checking out once. After all, you can’t help Dodo if you aren’t chanting along.

Overall entertainment: 7.5/10
Violence: 5/10
Sex: 0/10
Gore: 5/10
Teeth: Lotsa lotsa teeth

Incantation (2022)

Director: Kevin Ko
Writers: Kevin Ko, Chang Che-wei


Tsai Hsuan-yen – Li Ronan
Huang Sin-ting – Dodo
Kao Ying-hsuang – Ming
Sean Lim – Dom
RQ – Yuan


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