incantation film horror taiwan

Is Taiwanese Horror Film ‘Incantation’ Truly That Terrifying?

An unexpected plot twist in the film breaks down the fourth wall, but is it trying too hard to be clever?

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Beatrice Tamagno Headshot
3:37 PM HKT, Thu July 14, 2022 2 mins read

Since hitting local cinemas in Taiwan in March 2022, the Taiwanese blockbuster Incantation has been highly anticipated by Chinese-speaking audiences worldwide. The film, which quickly became the highest-grossing Taiwanese movie of the year and the highest-grossing Taiwanese horror film of all time, was released to a global audience on Netflix on July 8.

Directed by Kevin Ko, the film revolves around a series of curse-caused paranormal events experienced by protagonist Ronan (Tsai Hsuan-yen) and her daughter Dodo (Huang Sin-ting).

The origin of the curse stems from a trip Ronan had made years earlier: While visiting a remote area in Yunnan province, she broke a religious taboo, but was unaware that the spell would affect her loved ones.

Years later, Ronan is reunited with her biological daughter — only then do supernatural and creepy events start to unfold.

Partially inspired by actual events, Incantation might ring familiar to those who remember a bizarre incident that took place in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, in 2005: Claiming to be possessed by deities from Chinese folk religions, a family of six fed on feces and burned one another with incense to ‘expel the demons.’ The incident resulted in the tragic death of the family’s two daughters.

Mere days after Incantation’s Netflix release, almost 70,000 users on the Chinese review platform Douban had marked the film as ‘watched.’ An additional 84,000 individuals have added it to their watchlist.

But is the film really worth the hype?

Chinese netizens wondered the same over the weekend, when a hashtag related to the film went viral on Weibo, accumulating more than 260 million views. A second more specific hashtag asking ‘Is Incantation scary?’ (#咒吓人吗#) had nearly 200 million views at the time of writing.

As it turns out, many spectators were barely spooked by the film.

“I waited for this movie for so long, but it didn’t even scare me,” reads one of the comments.

“It’s not that scary, but the hype is real,” said a more appreciative viewer, whose popular post has resonated with other netizens.

incantation horror movie taiwan

Li Ronan, the protagonist of Incantation. Image via Weibo

Scary or not, the horror film has succeeded in standing out in a sea of uninteresting Chinese-language horror movies, say many spectators.

The lack of standout horror films in the Chinese mainland can be credited to strict rules implemented by the China Film Administration. Heavily used tropes in horror movies — such as ghosts, religions, and cults — often fall under the label of ‘superstition’ and are heavily targeted by censorship.

More than anything, Douban users have been heavily invested in Incantation’s unique selling point.

Editor’s Note: Spoilers ahead; you’ve been warned!

incantation horror taiwan

The cursed insignia in the film. Whoops, did we just pass on the jinx? Image via Weibo

In Incantation’s opening scene, Ronan breaks the fourth wall and asks the audience to memorize an insignia and recite a spell that will allegedly break the curse and help her daughter survive.

At the movie’s end, however, it’s revealed that the more people who are cursed, the less powerful the spell becomes. While this may sound like a good thing at first, it implies that audience members who have recited the spell will also be cursed. Movie director Ko gleaned the idea from internet culture, specifically ‘cursed’ chain emails and messages.

Netizens have been divided by this unexpected twist in the film: Those who are spooked have discouraged religious types from watching the movie, but unaffected audience members have made fun of the film on Chinese social media.

“It’s shot really well, and the atmosphere is scary enough, but when I found out in the final scene that the director is casting a spell on viewers, I felt like it went too far,” reads a Weibo comment with over 7,000 likes.

Do you dare to take your chances with the curse? If you do, Incantation makes for an interesting watch and is an excellent introduction to the realm of Chinese-language horror movies. And no, we aren’t trying to save our asses or reduce the curse’s effects by looping you in…

Watch the film on Netflix

Cover image via Weibo

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