By Sneha Jaiswal (Twitter | Instagram)
A ‘cursed’ woman does all she can to ensure her little daughter isn’t affected by the evil following her in the 2022 Taiwanese horror movie ‘Incantation’. Available to stream on Netflix, the film is directed by Kevin Ko, who has co-written the script with Che-Wei Chang.
Shot in the style of films like ‘Paranormal Activity’, ‘Incantation’ feels very documentary like in nature; actor Hsuan-yen Tsai who plays Li Ronan shoots most of the scenes on a webcam. The story opens with a bare-faced Ronan recording a home video, where she reveals how she was cursed for violating a ‘taboo’ six years ago. She then appeals to those watching the video to memorize a symbol and then chant an incantation along with her. It’s meant to seek blessings that will help keep her daughter safe. But fighting off evil is never as easy.
What sets apart ‘Incantation’ from most films in the genre is how the makers barely use jump scares. So, there are no sudden loud sounds to startle the viewer, instead, the story works up a slow dread, keeping you in suspense over what’s going to happen next and how things came to be so? What ‘taboo’ did Li Ronan break? Will the little child live? The script however does rely on some creepy stuff that will only scare a certain set of viewers, but make other seasoned horror fans sigh and wonder if things will ever get crazy.
A talented set of actors hold this story together, especially Husan-yen Tsai, who starts off as an intense accursed mother, but flashbacks show her to be a lively carefree woman, who is eventually broken by terrible experiences and loss. The child actor who plays her daughter does a fantastic job of keeping in character… together the two make a tortured mother-daughter duo, who’ve only recently re-united, but the ghosts of Ronan’s past haunt them, stifling a bond that was doomed from the start. Perhaps one can look at as a metaphor for how you some people can never get second chances, and each attempt to re-build cannot fix what’s broken.
Director Kevin Ko is said to have been inspired by real-life incidents for the story, but the script obviously infuses a lot of fictional elements to make the film more cohesive and intriguing in nature. There’s a generous amount of religious, mythological, cultural and supernatural elements sprinkled through the runtime. Except for a few tense tunes employed to accentuate dramatic developments, there’s close to no use of background score. Ko employs only ambient sounds to keep things moving and it helps in keeping things real and gritty.
The camera work helps in connecting the audience more intimately than regular cinematography, it’s like the characters are speaking directly to you, dragging you into their bizarre world of incantation and idols. However, things don’t head to a crescendo, we don’t get ‘what the hell’ twist we would hope for from such a production. Instead, despite an unexpected enough surprise in the end, you are left with an underwhelming feeling…. “Was that all?…” is the question I was left with. It still is an interesting attempt at horror and may have those with ‘belief’ in these things a lot more shaken than cynics.
It’s a 6/10 from me.
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