‘Incantation’ Review: Taiwanese Horror Hit is Messy but Creepy

Daniel Rester reviews the Taiwanese horror film 'Incantation' from director Kevin Ko, now available on Netflix.
User Rating: 6.5

‘Incantation’ Review: Taiwanese Horror Hit is Messy but Creepy

By Daniel Rester

Incantation was a huge hit at the box office in its native Taiwan. The horror film by Kevin Ko, which is partially presented in the found footage style, is now available elsewhere through Netflix. While it has its share of production qualities and is fairly creepy, Incantation doesn’t rank among the greatest of found footage films despite its financial success. It is still worth a view for fans of the subgenre though.  

Hsuan-yen Tsai is excellent as Li Ronan, a woman who reunites with her daughter Dodo (Sin-ting Huang, who is adorable) after six years. After visiting a village, Li gave up Dodo to foster care as a baby and sought psychiatric assistance because she was cursed while at the village. In the present, Li tries to fight Dodo from becoming cursed too. 

Ko’s film messes with viewers early on by having Li break the fourth wall and inviting the audience to participate in saying a blessing to help Dodo against the curse. It occasionally returns to this method as Li makes her video diaries. It also employs a lot of usual found footage techniques throughout, but then ignores the rules of the subgenre at other times by using a music score and having regular cinematography when it feels like it. On top of this, the story is told in a non-linear fashion. 

The various storytelling methods and editing choices can make Incantation feel a bit messy and confusing at times. Some sections can be tedious as well as Ko keeps secrets about the curse for a long time instead of revealing them early on as an inciting incident. The logic behind the curse of the “Mother-Buddha” is murky as well. 

Despite my issues with it, Incantation still succeeds by having strong acting and individual sections that work well on their own. The village scenes in particular are unsettling, as are images of bugs everywhere and black holes in people’s skin. My favorite scene has people driving by the same burn barrel and bicycle over and over despite moving straight; it’s a frightening mind game accomplished through editing trickery.  

Li’s involvement with the real-world audience with the blessings also has a darkly amusing payoff. The fourth wall-breaking moments add a fresh layer to the film’s style as found footage films have typically avoided such an approach in the past. I wouldn’t be surprised if this becomes more normalized in the subgenre though, as audiences are frequently invited to interact with vlog personalities in this day and age of online communities.  

Incantation may help give Taiwanese horror filmmakers a boost due to its financial success, which is great. I just wish it were a better film artistically. Ko’s film is muddled in structure and presentation at times, but it brings enough interesting and scary moments to make it worthwhile.  

My Grade: 6.5/10 (letter grade equivalent: B-)

Running Time: 1h 50min

6.5
Fair
Written by
Daniel Rester is a writer for the We Live Film portion of We Live Entertainment. He is a Southern Oregon University alumnus and has a Bachelor of Science degree with a double major in Communication (Film, Television, and Convergent Media) and Emerging Media and Digital Arts. He has been involved with writing and directing short films for years. Rester also won 2nd place in the Feature Screenplay Competition in the 2015 Oregon Film Awards for his screenplay "Emma Was Here," which is currently in post-production and will be Rester's feature directorial debut.

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