Since its Netflix release on 8 July 2022, Taiwanese horror movie Incantation has been scaring audiences senseless – to the point the question has been floated of whether the film itself is cursed.

One Twitter user said the film is “capable of giving you nightmares for days”. Another wrote the movie “cursed its viewers” – but what is it about Incantation that has affected people so profoundly?

The narrative revolves around the first person account of a young woman, Ronan, who implores the viewer to memorise various insignia.

You’re also supposed to chant a particular incantation – hence the name of the movie – which may have led some to believe the film itself is cursed. So, what do we know?

***WARNING: The trailer for Incantation (below) is not for the faint-hearted and contains scenes some viewers may find disturbing***

Incantation | Official Trailer | Netflix

Incantation | Official Trailer | Netflix

Is Incantation the movie really cursed?

The short answer is, basically, no. In a broadly rationalist, empirical and evidence-based frame of mind, there is no room for curses.

Curses are the stuff of fiction.

You may have heard of the so-called “Strictly curse”, whereby those who compete in the BBC TV ballroom dancing competition are more likely to break up with their life partners, divorce or become embroiled in scandal.

Or the “curse of the Tour de France”, apparently borne out of French riders’ inability to win the cycling race. Some people might believe otherwise, but none of these is actually a curse in the supernatural sense – in the sense portrayed in Incantation.

Why do some people think Incantation the movie is cursed?

Incantation’s narrator, Ronan, asks the viewer to memorise an insignia and chant an incantation.

The insignia from Taiwanese horror film Incantation, which bears the fictional curse
Source: YouTube screenshot [Netflix Asia]

By doing so – the chant is ‘Hou-ho-xiu-yi, si-sei-wu-ma’ – you’ll send blessings to her six-year-old daughter Dodo, and supposedly lift the curse that hangs over her.

It’s a fictional film, so everything that happens in it is made up. Although, having said that, parts of it are based on real events, according to various Taiwanese media outlets.

Incantation makes use of a filmmaking technique called “found footage”. This means shooting a movie to make it look as though you’ve literally found the footage. 

As a cinematic technique, found footage is popular among makers of horror films. Some exemplars of the subgenre include The Blair Witch Project and Cannibal Holocaust.

Ronan and her daughter in Incantation
Source: YouTube screenshot [Netflix Asia]

What does the curse in Incantation mean?

***WARNING: Incantation spoilers below***

Towards the end of the film, Ronan confesses to the viewer she has been lying. She reveals, in other words, that she is an unreliable narrator.

Instead of conveying blessings, reciting it actually amounts to giving consent to carry the curse. It dilutes it.

Again, it’s worth stressing this is all fictional. You don’t have to worry about actually shouldering the curse the Buddha-Mother inflicted on Ronan et al.

But the idea is the more people who say the incantation and submit their name to it, the more people carry it – and the less the burden is for each one.

Ronan repeats the words of the incantation in Taiwanese horror movie Incantation
Source: YouTube screenshot [Netflix Asia]

What’s the true story behind it?

Incantation takes as inspiration an incident that took place in Taiwan in 2005. It also draws heavily on the rich tradition of Asian horror, and modern internet culture.

The real-life incident people have connected to the story of Incantation involved a family living in Gushan District, Kaohsiung City, Taiwan. 

They began to exhibit what Taiwan’s Liberty Times described as “peculiar” and “abnormal behaviour”, apparently involving beatings, “intimate sexual behaviour”, faeces (poop), and death.

It is perhaps unsurprising the real story behind Netflix’s Incantation has been described as “scarier than the movie”.

Related Topics