Sunday, 10 July 2022

Netflix And Chill: Incantation (2022)

A 2022 horror film from Taiwan that I hadn't heard about before today, Incantation is one of many films now available to a wide audience that helps to make the case for streaming services being a positive thing for film fans. It's good enough to have eventually found a fanbase, absolutely, but I am pleased to see that it might now be an easy choice for people browsing online for their next slice of thrills and chills.

The focus of the story is Ronan (Tsai Hsuan-yen), a young woman who has been through some troubled times that meant a number of years kept separated from her young daughter, Dodo (Huang Sin-ting). Now reunited, and hoping to move forward to happier times, it's not long until things start getting a bit tense and scary. Dodo keeps claiming to see some invisible being, there are strange sounds and happenings, and Ronan has to eventually accept that her current situation stems from a terrible episode that occurred just before Dodo was born. 

Directed by Kevin Ko, who made his feature debut over a decade ago with Invitation Only (a film I haven't seen, but am now curious about) and has directed a film every 2-3 years since then, Incantation is an enjoyably atmospheric work that makes good use of various footage being investigated and presented to the camera in a documentary style. Ronan is sharing her story with viewers, and delivering information that may or may not help others avoid her fate, at certain points asking you/me/anyone to chant, to focus on certain images and ideas, and to generally help increase the power of whatever potential magic might be able to affect the world around us.

Hsuan-yen and Sin-ting are both very good in their roles, with very different reactions to events unfolding around them for obvious reasons. One is very much aware of the dangers around them, and of things playing out in ways they really shouldn't, while the other is an unfazed and typically curious child. Kao Ying-hsuan does fine in his role, Ming, a worker the care system who is convinced that a fraught mother has genuine concerns for the well-being of her daughter, and Sean Lin gets his share of memorable moments as Dom, the father of Dodo. There are a few other cast members, but these people are involved in most of the main moments that lead viewers from one bit of developing dread to the next.

It's a shame that the film runs out of steam during the third act, especially after doing such good work of building the creepiness in the first half of the movie. The script, co-written by Ko and Chang Che-wei, generally works well, and is structured to hold back a few reveals until the finale, but this could have been turned into something truly unmissable if the 110-minute runtime had been trimmed down and the scare count ramped up even further.

Bringing to mind a number of other, slightly better, movies (I kept thinking of the superb Noroi: The Curse and The Grudge), Incantation has some nice ideas, a good share of freaky moments, and imagery that will stay with you for some time after it's all over. I think it might also reward viewers with a number of details that can be picked out during a rewatch.


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