Incantation has been described as the most terrifying film ever made in Taiwan. And it will be streaming exclusively on Netflix from July 8.
Helmed by Kevin Ko, this story of a mother trying to save her child from a deadly curse has earned TW$170M (US$5.7M) and counting, making it 2022’s highest-grossing movie to date at the Taiwan box office. It’s critically acclaimed too, with seven Taipei Film Award nominations (including Best Narrative Feature and Best Director). Preparations for a sequel, also directed by Ko, are already in progress.
So what makes Incantation so scary-good? The trailer showcases horror techniques familiar to fans of movies like The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity, such as found footage and characters who address the audience through the camera. Ko was inspired by Internet culture, such as forum threads, YouTuber confessionals, and email chain letters. The trailer also features a psychological test with a Ferris wheel and a moving train, which embeds the key idea that viewers’ intentions can shape real-world outcomes.
Incantation tells the story of a mother trying to save her child from a deadly curse.
“Incantation has resonated strongly with Taiwanese audiences, and we are excited to share this movie with our members around the world,” says Janelle Ong, Chinese Language Content Acquisition Manager. “Asian horror has been very influential in shaping the genre and bringing it to new heights, and we are proud to partner with a new generation of Asian film-makers who are creating the movies that will define what terror means for today’s viewers.”
Ko explains that his goal was to create an interactive connection with the audience. “I know how to scare the audience with an effective horror sequence. But a good horror movie is not just about these tricks,” he says. “The core has to be about human nature. Ultimately, the audience has to care about the characters.”
In this, he is very much influenced by the wave of Asian horror that became globally popular in the 1990s and early 2000s, and included films like Japan’s Ring, One Missed Call, Ju-on, and Dark Water, as well as Hong Kong’s The Eye. “Asian horror is not just about hardcore gore,” says Ko. “It has a softness to it. It scares you but it also moves you, even heals you.”
Director Kevin K believes that for a horror movie to work, audiences have to care about the characters.
Taiwan horror may well be sparking a new wave of Asian horror. In recent years, The Tag-Along, Detention, The Bridge Curse, and The Rope Curse and its sequel have given this genre a new lease of life in Taiwan. Many more such movies featuring original stories are set to be released in 2022, which is being billed as “a year of terror” (but just on-screen, hopefully).
Horror movies can be made effectively without many special effects and expensive set pieces, which is one reason they have taken off in Taiwan. Asian horror movies, in particular, also often feature local lore that resonates with local audiences. For instance, Incantation is loosely inspired by a true Taiwanese story involving a family of cult worshippers. Ko says he was intrigued by but also fearful of this story.
“Respect for religion, especially religious taboos and religions that are very obscure, has some degree of fear in it,” he believes. “I love scary stories, and even so I didn’t really quite dare to touch this topic. I wanted to magnify this feeling in Incantation.”
Incantation is loosely inspired by a true Taiwanese story involving a family of cult worshippers.
Such taboos and practices may be even more intriguing to global audiences. Beyond that, the elements that make horror a genre that travels are “fear of death and unknown forces, and identifying with characters and relationships like the mother-child bond in Incantation,” he says.
Watching horror at home on Netflix, and bringing the scares into a familiar domestic space, brings a whole new level of terror, which horror fans are always chasing. As Ko puts it: “It’s like riding a rollercoaster — what scares you somehow also attracts you. I’m really proud that Incantation is going to be released on Netflix globally, maximizing the number of people who can watch it. It has always been my dream to make films that travel around the world and are watched by every horror fan on earth, keeping them awake at night. I can’t wait to hear viewers’ reactions.”
Catch Incantation on Netflix from July 8.