“Incantation” starts off with the found footage that’s central to its premise, and dives straight into the bowels of terror. The tropes used here are not unconventional by any means: individuals meddle into affairs that they should’ve steered clear of and unwittingly embroil themselves in a ritualistic religion they know nothing about, and the consequences are, unsurprisingly, ugly. There’s a creepy tunnel that should not be entered at any cost (it is forbidden), but our trio, Li Ronan (Tsai Hsuan-yen), Dom (Sean Lin), and Yuan (Wen Ching-yu), ignore all warnings and enter anyway, and only Li Ronan survives the ordeal. What happened inside the tunnel is a mystery, as this part of the footage is now damaged, and it’s up to Li Ronan to piece together this unsettling mystery that claimed the lives of her loved ones.
The film’s greatest asset when it comes to ramping up the fear-laced suspense is its out-of-order storytelling that deliberately feels disjointed and jarring. We learn that Li Ronan was pregnant during the time she ventured into the remote clan village with her friends, and was asked to submit her name, along with that of her unborn daughter, for the sake of a Yunnan ritual. After the child, Dodo, is born, Li Ronan’s mental stability deteriorates, which is conveyed via jumps in time and a slew of hauntings that feel visceral, all of which are presented as recorded footage. There are gaps in the narrative that are filled when one least expects it, and when everything suddenly clicks into place, it is too late to back out of the experience.
This disorienting ordering, coupled with gory jumpscares and sudden violence, works together to weave a film that uses the premise of ancient curses to keep audiences hooked.