A Kevin Ho Film
Welcome to Knockout Horror. Today we are reviewing Taiwanese Found Footage supernatural horror movie Incantation. Directed by Kevin Ko. Incantation attempts to take everything that made Noroi: The Curse so successful. Refine it and and put out something genuinely chilling for modern horror audiences. Does it succeed? Let’s take a look.
Can you believe Found Footage is still going strong in 2023? The genre absolutely refuses to die. I always talk about how divisive the style is. I actually really enjoy Found Footage but a lot of people don’t. It is about as Marmite of an approach to horror movie making as you can get. People tend to love it or hate it. Still, it shows no signs of fading away.
I actually just put together a list of 25 Found Footage Horror Movies You May Have Missed. Why not go and check it out? Incantation might be one of the best found footage movies in years. With that in mind, it had to find a place onto the aforementioned list.
Incantation follows the story of Li Ro-nan (Hsuan-yen Tsai). A number of years ago. Ronan travelled to a small village with a group of friends. Hoping to record footage of a religious ceremony that takes place in the village. Ronan and her friends broke a religious taboo. Leading to Ronan being cursed. Back in the present day, Ronan is a parent to a young girl. Hoping to avoid passing her curse on. Ronan is forced to do whatever she can to save her child’s life.
Incantation’s story is a fairly simple one and boils down to one simple premise. The lengths a parent will go to, to protect their children. Filmed in a found footage style. The movie plays out as something of a journal of events, recorded and narrated by Ronan. We follow her journey from regaining custody of her child. Right through to her realising her curse may pass on. And accepting what she must do to prevent it.
Naturally, we are talking about a horror movie. Incantation’s primary focus is on scaring and unsettling the viewer. But there is a significant amount of familial drama here. Ronan has, seemingly, lost custody of her daughter. She is deeply disturbed from the things she has been through. She has been undergoing extensive therapy. And is attempting to prove that she can be a competent parent.
When Ronan is finally afforded the opportunity to have her child living with her. She wants to do everything she can to make her life comfortable. For much of the movie, however. It would appear that the odds are stacked against her. There is a tremendous amount of time here dedicated to Ronan’s parental struggles. Whether that is your cup of tea or not may factor into how much you enjoy Incantation.
The movie is quick to push the scares to one side. Instead content to focus on more familial drama. Whether that be interactions between Ronan and her daughter. Or simply interactions with social services and care staff. Despite being rather pivotal to the overall plot of the movie. It can get in the way a little bit here and there.
When Incantation finds its groove, however. It is an incredibly effective supernatural horror movie. Focusing on themes of religion, rituals and sacrilege. Incantation should feel fairly familiar to anyone who is a fan of Asian horror. Small, isolated, villages with seemingly bizarre systems of beliefs are pretty common tropes. As are the horrific outcomes when they open their doors to outsiders. Outsiders who, almost immediately, disrespect them and cause havoc.
Incantation really throws everything at the viewer. From shocking scenes of sudden violence. To toe curling body horror and ultra tense, claustrophobic, moments of suspense. It’s a really nice balance. The movie is incredibly atmospheric. Maintaining a distinct feeling of gloom and threat throughout. Some of the scenes are legitimately unsettling, as well. It’s impossible not to feel ill at ease as characters wander through tunnels in the dark. That’s without mentioning the blistered skin and brutal scenes of self harm. It’s powerful stuff and stays with you.
Kevin Ko borrows liberally from horror movies of the past. Carefully crafting a movie that attacks the audience from multiple angles. It never really lets you settle in and you never know where the next scare will come from. It’s extremely effective and, at times, genuinely disturbing.
The found footage presentation style offers Incantation a distinct feeling of realism. It is guilty of stepping briefly into farce towards the end. Leaning far too heavily into a weak attempt at creating viral popularity. But, for the most part. The gritty camera work and slightly unorthodox angles makes everything feel more authentic. Characters feel exposed and vulnerable, events are believable. There is a serious rawness to everything that works incredibly well. It draws you in and makes you invest in the characters.
Placing a young child at the centre of many of the scares is another effective move. Impacting the viewer in a more significant way than if we were watching an adult. I am sure any parent can relate to the lengths Ronan will go to for her child. Making the movie connect more with certain viewers than others. Not everyone is going to enjoy this approach. But, for those that do, they may find themselves more invested.
It’s never easy to see a child in peril and some of the scenes here may be difficult for some. The fantastic practical effects and makeup add massively to the sense of realism. Making some of the stuff we see incredibly impactful. Incantation doesn’t go too over the top with its visuals. It keeps things simple and that is what makes it so effective. Some of the scenes are wince inducing for their realism. The practical effects and makeup team deserve a bunch of credit here.
It has to be said, Incantation is far too long. It runs around 110 minutes which is a real slog for a found footage. This is something of a trait of Asian horror movies. They are always rather long. They invest heavily in their storytelling. Refusing to trim elements that, otherwise, might seem rather unnecessary. There is a fair bit of fluff here that adds little to the plot. The timeline bounces around haphazardly, as well. Making it a bit of a difficult follow for people with concentration issues. ADHD suffers, Bipolar sufferers etc.
The movie does feel a little bit silly, in parts, as well. There are a few scenes that look rather ridiculous. Something that is only compounded by the found footage presentation. The most notable issue, however, is the movie’s bizarre fourth wall breaking toward the end. It feels like an attempt at viral marketing. Like something that they hoped would be shared on TikTok or the like. It’s odd and feels rather cheesy in what is an otherwise serious movie. Again, not a major issue but something that bears mention.
Acting is fantastic throughout. Hsuan-yen Tsai, as Li Ronan, is great. She, obviously, carries the weight of the movie. Featuring in the majority of scenes and narrating for much of the film. She is always believable and does a brilliant job of expressing emotion. Bringing a sense of gravity to many of the scenes. Huang Sin-Ting is adorable as her daughter Dodo and does a great job.
Kao Ying-hsuan, as Ming, is effective in a fairly small role. Offering up an outsiders view to events taking place. He is believable and has some powerful scenes towards the end of the movie. All side characters are fine. The cast is strong from top to bottom.
Special mention has to go to the research and incorporation of religious elements. The movie features imagery from Buddhism and Hinduism. Bringing them into the story in a manner that feels authentic and organic. I’m not the biggest fan of religious horror movies but I appreciate the effort. Everything here feels extremely carefully researched.
Incantation is one of the better found footage horror movies of the past 10 years. It isn’t just a decent found footage horror, though. It is a decent horror movie in its own right. While being a little heavy on the familial drama. It has a fantastically well crafted story. A likable protagonist who is easy to root for. And a whole bunch of supernatural scares.
This is a movie that will stay with you. It has some genuinely disturbing moments and some incredibly effective tension. Atmospheric throughout, Incantation feels like Noroi for the 2020s. It is a bit long and can be a bit silly at times. Incantation isn’t going to appeal to everyone, either. It is firmly committed to its story of a parent doing anything for their child. Something that may not be everyone’s cup of tea. Despite this, Incantation is a powerful horror movie that is well worth a watch.