Let’s see if we can help out.
Incantation follows young mother Ronan (Hsuan-ten Tsai) as she gets her daughter Dodo back from a foster home. Ronan believes her family to be cursed and was deemed too mentally ill by the state (not sure if state is the right term for Taiwan?) but has recovered six years later and gets to take Dodo home.
The film starts with a decent enough hook where Ronan is begging for our help. An interesting thread for a found footage. We get some evidence of the power of the curse and then… it slows down. We end up jumping back in time to see how things led to the start of the film. However, we then also see Ronan in the asylum, and then we’re back to the other time jump. Organizationally, I think the film wanted to add suspense while giving us a decent hook but ended up dragging out the introduction more than they needed to (or probably meant to).
We’ve got ourselves a new found footage film, which isn’t the worst thing in the world I guess. I’ve never been on the bash all found footage band wagon as I do think it is a way to play with the audience and bring in suspense. Further, it allows small budget products to get off the ground. This one gives enough of a reason for filming everything, but it can’t break the oddities of keeping filming when shit gets weird. And shit gets weird really quick. The house is obviously haunted as soon as Dodo arrives, and we end up with another time jump. However, even the people at the hospital ask her if she is cursed than why hasn’t she or her daughter been affected?
The annoying part of this movie is that it had enough good in it to not simply dismiss it as a failure but has enough pacing issues to not be great. When they get around to being suspenseful it works quite well. The film has some teeth and when it chooses to bare them it works. Unfortunately, we end up with about three introductions (or two and a half) where we have three time threads and three sets of circumstances. Yes, two are linked but it still stalls everything and brings the narrative build up of the previous section to a complete halt.
The individual moments work okay, but I have found myself confused by the time jumps. We tend to get a notification when we go backward but not forwards, which makes some of transitions strange. I know the majority of my complaints are about the pacing and organization, but it is a major problem here. Honestly, it would have been better if the film was put into chronological order. The suspense could naturally build that way and we wouldn’t keep getting jerked around as the viewer. Alright, I’ll stop complaining about this part for a bit.
There are some plot oddities here that are hard to ignore. If Ronan believes that she is indeed cursed and her daughter will be in danger with her, why would she try to get Dodo back? Why wouldn’t she try to get her to stay at the foster home, where she seemed well cared for? Yeah, they do the whole “went to therapy and doesn’t believe it anymore” spiel, but it doesn’t seem like she believes the therapists at all.
The rules of the curse are also insanely vague. We bury so much of the lore in scattered flashbacks that I had no clue what the driving factors were. You’ll not be surprised to know that a twist is coming. (Honestly, this whole thing feels like a more chaotic Dabbe). For the twist to have weight we needed more of the rules and the rational behind what is happening. The payoff isn’t worth it in the end as it doesn’t feel earned.
I suppose I should make fun of the fact that Ronan’s ghost hunting group is called Ghost Busters, and they are observing a ritual when things go poorly, and everyone ends up cursed. I wonder where they came up with the name Ghost Busters… Anyway, I did not like these pats of the film as we have stupid Characters. Ronan and Dodo are interesting. The two idiots with Ronan for Ghost Busters are not. They suck the fun and fright out of every scene.
Perhaps the biggest problem is how slow the whole thing is. We have brief moments of oomph to be stalled out again by a lengthy chunk of backstory or a predictable turn in the narrative.
I get that we’re supposed to sympathize with Ronan because it is a horror movie and we know she is right, but she doesn’t do herself any favors. In her care, Dodo gets sick, almost kills herself, and is frequently left alone. I mean, honestly, how much evidence does the CPS (or whatever the Taiwanese counterpart is called) need to intervene?
The overall story is interesting. We have some unique ideas and excellent visuals. A leaner, tighter experience would have made this one a slam dunk. As I said at the start, it isn’t a failure, but it also isn’t a success. In a lot of ways, the good outweighs the bad if you can get over the janky progression. It is frustrating though.
The second half of the film does work pretty damn well. We do get some emotional moments that pay off well and the scares start to come in a way that makes sense. The flaws are still present, but the ending is much stronger than the start.
Worth watching if you are patient and don’t mind found footage.