The premise of so many horror movies rest on the cursed ‘don’t!’. “You must not read from the book!” screamed Jonathan Hyde in The Mummy.
The Cabin in the Woods had a whole room full of ‘don’t’ where everything in there would trigger mayhem.
Incantation, the smash hit Taiwanese found footage movie, has it’s own: don’t go inside the forbidden tunnel!
Cue creepy remote village filled with bizarre rituals, a rare festival, and a sacred tunnel.
What Is Incantation About?
No-one except relatives are allowed to attend, but unfortunately two of those relatives are young ghost hunting YouTubers determined to film events, along with pregnant third member Li Ronan. You can see where this is going.
Events are retold in a non-linear manner through various found footage sources. At first, Li Ronan (Tsai Hsuan-yen) talks direct to camera, imploring the viewer to remember and repeat a mantra like incantation for their own safety.
Thereafter we cut back and forth between footage from the village, and footage shot years later as Li, recently discharged from a mental health institution, reclaims custody of her daughter, now 5 years old.
This scattering of the scares can make Incantation uneven. The sections at home with Li and daughter Dodo (Huang Sin-ting) are a classic ghost story, with Dodo frequently scared of, or talking to, something we can’t see.
The domestic horror is ground in normality and so a mental shift is needed when cutting back to the seclusion and confusion of a remote location filled with people who believe utterly in something unclear, namely the ‘Mother Buddha’.
The switching between timeframes is a conscious choice; information is doled out slowly.
Incantation gradually increases the pressure, using misinformation and the terror of severe child illness to dissolve Li’s mental state.
By the time that the much repeated ‘DON’T’ plays out, through a combination of corrupted footage shot that night, and a later revisit, then director Kevin Ko’s mantra chant has already ensnared you.
Incantation Official Trailer
Is Incantation Worth Watching?
As is often the case with the genre, the use of ‘found footage’ beggars belief at times.
Li’s excuse for filming in the present is to document the return of Dodo and create a ‘life diary’ for her future enjoyment.
You have to push the flimsy excuses for ‘but why film that’ aside when watching because the logic often struggles to hold up to scrutiny.
So often found footage movies end with a undignified thump of the camera into the dirt, but thankfully Incantation holds its nerve.
With Dodo’s health rapidly deteriorating Li’s return to the forbidden tunnel is laden with nail biting tension, thanks to the restored footage from that fateful night.
Anyone afraid of enclosed spaces will be inconsolable once this movie is done.
Despite Incantation keeping back a reveal which more than echoes a Peter Capaldi era Doctor Who episode (and left this reviewer scratching his head as to the logistics of it), the lasting feeling once the credits roll is relief.
The horror is ended. You are safe. Don’t worry, it’s ok. Breathe. Hou-ho-xiu-yi, si-sei-wu-ma. And if you ever come across a forbidden tunnel, then just DON’T.
Words by Mike Record
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