Found footage horror movies can be hard to execute well—but director Kevin Ko delivers Incantation as an intriguing mockumentary, inviting the audience to go on a horrifying journey inundated with curses.
With the abundance of successful found footage films such as Paranormal Activity, The Blair Witch Project and Noroi: The Curse, coming up with unique found-footage films have become a challenge, especially since it no longer seemed like a dominating subgenre within horror.
Incantation delves into the realm of the occult and demonology mockumentary-style, starting the film with Ronan (Hsuan-yen Tsai) addressing the audience using her video recorder accompanied with ominous imagery. While found footage films typically show the viewers a gritty close up of the protagonists, the direct invitation to watch what Ronan goes through gives us a sense of vulnerability that goes beyond the camera.
The origin of the curse
After having lost custody of her daughter Dodo (Huang Sin-ting), Ronan finally reunites with her and documents everything with her video recorder to cherish all their moments together. Throughout the nonlinear and oscillating narratives from her past, Ronan reveals that she has “violated a terrible taboo” with her so-called ghostbusting crew years ago. Prior to having Dodo, the narrative shift shows that Ronan traveled to a secluded rural village to document the enigmatic rituals of her boyfriend Dong’s (Sean Lin) relatives along with her friend Yuan (Chen-chen Yuan).
This turns out to be a colossal mistake—their meddling resulted in a curse that landed Ronan in a psychiatric hospital, and evidently, finding its way to pass onto Dodo many years later. The rituals underscore an unforgettable chant that recurs throughout the film, “Hou–ho–xiu–yi, si-sei-wu-ma,” which is implied to be a deterrent against various malicious forces. But as the family’s situation escalates, the audience is left wondering about the true effects of the chant: is it a placebo, does it completely depend on the power of will, or is it something that no one really grasps?
Tropes and gore
Without solely resorting to jump scares, the unexpected graphic imagery in the rituals of the occult also conjure a very tense and eerily realistic ambience. The visuals show just enough to depict the grotesque aspects of demonology and never go overboard, keeping a layer of suspense and mystery. One of the features that many found footage films fail to balance is the unpolished or raw nature of the film with camera techniques that aren’t off-putting—too much filler, shakiness and monotonous dialogue can make a film completely unbearable. Incantation does a good job of balancing these elements while maintaining a veil of despondency that makes your skin crawl.
A “flaw” that does appear in the film (if I’m being nitpicky) is the inclusion of a few clichés. After all, the film does follow a common formula in found footage horror: a goofy friend who gets himself in trouble, a ghost-hunting project gone wrong, and the occult entering a wholesome family’s lives. However, this is one of those rare moments where the common tropes are outweighed by the incredible performance of the cast, and the fourth-wall-breaking element. If anything, I’d say that it’s the pinnacle of utilizing clichés and existing lore perfectly.
In a subgenre oversaturated with trite motifs, Incantation certainly stands out and I’d recommend this to anyone who loves a found footage with slow burn scenes (and this is coming from someone who’s fairly picky with found footage films!)