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  • Writer's pictureMaxwell J.

Netflix’s Incantation (2022) Curses Viewers with Familiar Supernatural Horror

Title: Incantation

First Non-Festival Release: March 18, 2022 (Theatrical Release)

Director: Kevin Ko

Writer: Che-Wei Chang, Kevin Ko

Runtime: 110 Minutes

Starring: Hsuan-yen Tsai, Sin-Ting Huang, Kao Ying-Hsuan

Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here

Li Ronan (Hsuan-yen Tsai) is making a documentary dedicated to her daughter, Dodo (Sin-Ting Huang). The documentary stretches over the course of six years, looking back on when she was first pregnant with Dodo and adventuring with her boyfriend Dom (Sean Lin) and friend Yuan (RQ), and in the present where she gets Dodo back from a foster home. Li lost Dodo after she had a nervous breakdown caused by the events of a ritual she inadvertently interrupted with her friends. Now that she has Dodo back, she is determined to give her the life she deserves. Unfortunately, deadly consequences from the ritual carry over to the present, and she enlists the help of foster home owner Hsieh (Kao Ying-Hsuan) to help save Dodo.

Clunky and over bloated, Incantation fails to stand out from similarly themed and plotted supernatural mockumentary horror films.

Incantation experiments with narrative structure, splicing three separate narratives into one. It is unclear at first exactly why the story is told in such an odd way, but as the stories converge, the answers get clearer. The story itself doesn’t tread much new water. Over explanation and confusing rules make the curse seem silly rather than scary. By the end, the typical found footage tropes overwhelms whatever fresh narrative structure is introduced in the beginning.

There are several moments that feel excessively staged to get the right shot. At times, it verges on the ridiculous just how and why things are being filmed for the purposes of this mockumentary. Additionally, the compilation of the footage makes it feel even more confusing when there is no explanation for how Li could assemble everything in this manner by its inevitable conclusion. It’s distracting and takes the viewer out of the experience. It does boast some effective shots and sharp, frightening imagery, and intense moments, so it isn’t all for nothing.

What is commendable about Incantation is its dedication to its intriguing themes. Sharing curses as a burden is a novel concept in a sub-genre where curses are typically dealt by one person or entity. Through several reveals, Incantation showcases that there are still innovations in a niche field. Sharing more would venture into spoilers territory, but it packs weight considering the central relationship of the film: Li and Dodo.

While Incantation leans heavy into traditional mother-daughter tropes to tell its story, it is impossible to deny that Li’s love for Dodo comes through every step of the way. Familial love and a sense of duty to right past wrongs are recurring motifs in the film. Li does everything she can think of to make it safe for Dodo to return home. She is gainfully employed, keeps her house immaculate, and takes the time to help Dodo readjust into her new life. She does everything right. In the end, it doesn’t matter, as the curse inflicted on them both will never let them go. While everything shatters around them, Li’s love for Dodo is unshakeable.

There is plenty to appreciate in this dark, slow-burn effort even if it doesn’t quite come together in the end. Realistic effects work makes the terrifying visions come to life and assault the screen, especially once Incantation hits its dizzying climax. The ideas behind the film are unsettling and provocative and the action behind some of its scariest scenes is unbearable.

This Taiwanese horror film is certainly going to be a hit on Netflix but only for those who are eager to re-live the same beats of the typical Asian found footage horror film. Incantation is well-made but lacks the gravitas to pull off the ambition nature of its premise. Its innovative plot structure helps keep the viewer guessing but actively confuses the viewer trying to make sense of the many ever-dissolving plot threads. Despite getting in a few good scares, Incantation is over bloated and messy in its plot. Die-hard fans of mockumentaries and Asian horror will find much to enjoy, but others can take solace in not knowing the name of this import.

Overall Score? 5.5/10

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