Incantation (2022) Movie Explained: Ending, Themes, & The Trauma Of The Past And Karmic Retribution Analysed
Incantation (2022) Movie Explained: Taiwanese filmmaker Kevin Ko’s latest slow-burn horror film Incantation has touted itself as the “scariest Taiwanese film ever made.” Inspired by a true story involving a family of cult worshippers in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, the film was shot in a mockumentary style interspersed with found footage and actors breaking the fourth wall to address the audience. The film that bridges traditionally Taiwanese elements with contemporary horror employs the trope of a cursed video tale. The film, which set the record for the highest-grossing Taiwanese horror film of all time, resembles the Korean-Thai co-production The Medium (2021) in its found footage mockumentary style and in tackling a local religion in rural Thailand.
Incantation follows Li Ronan, who awakened a curse six years ago after breaking a religious taboo and disrupting a powerful and eerie shrine. Shortly after regaining custody of her daughter, the curse comes rearing back, this time targeting the young child with a fury. The film showcases the attempts of Ronan to lift the curse to save her daughter. The film references classic Asian horror that features life-threatening videotapes and cursed and forbidden places. The film indulges in manipulating and deceiving the viewer’s cognition as it twists and transforms benediction into damnation and exorcism into conjuration.
This write-up attempts to provide a holistic understanding of the film, delving into the intricate details of the film that requires more clarity. Refrain from reading the article and save it for later if you haven’t watched the movie, as the article may contain spoilers.
INCANTATION (2022) MOVIE SYNOPSIS & SUMMARY:
“Do you believe in such things as blessings?” Incantation opens with a voiceover asking this question to the audience and expounds on the power of will and how our intentions can affect outcomes in the real world. The voiceover presents two cases of optical illusion to demonstrate how a viewer’s perception of things shapes reality. The voice tells us to observe closely the animation of a Ferris wheel that seems to turn right or left at our whim, as well as the video of a moving train that appears to be entering or leaving a tunnel.
The protagonist and the voice from the opening voiceover Li Ronan (Tsai Hsuan-yen), appear on the screen with an ominous video message. She reveals that she violated a terrifying religious taboo six years ago by recklessly entering a forbidden tunnel. Those who have witnessed the video footage of the sacred tunnel are affected by a terrible curse that brings down misfortune on them. She requests her viewers’ help lifting the curse to save her daughter’s life. She asks the audience to memorize an insignia and repeat an ominous incantation, “Hou-ho-xiu-Yi, si-sei-wu-ma”.
LI RONAN’S REUNION WITH DODO
The film unfolds in a dual narrative, with its timeline jumping back and forth between the past and the present. The narrative skips a few weeks back when Li Ronan is due to get custody of her six-year-old daughter, Chen Le Tung, aka Dodo (Huang Sin-ting). After Ronan was affected by the terrible curse, she was separated from her daughter in the past due to her mental condition. After six years of therapy, Ronan’s life improved, and she is deemed fit to care for Dodo. As a result, she gains temporary custody of Dodo.
Ronan picks her daughter from the foster home run by Ming and his assistant Mrs. Hsia. Ronan is excited about the reunion with her daughter and plans to create a “digital life diary” that documents her new life. The mother-daughter duo starts a new chapter in their life. Ronan cares for Dodo and makes all the arrangements to make Dodo comfortable, and the tight-lipped Dodo also warms up to her mother. However, their life is turned upside down when they begin to experience haunting events and unexplained activities in the house from the very first day.
WHAT HAPPENS TO DODO?
As soon as Dodo arrived home with Ronan, uncanny incidents started happening. At night, Dodo is found sleepwalking, uttering her name repeatedly, and then she makes a screeching noise under the blanket. At her workplace, Ronan finds her bag filled with strange bugs. Dodo is disturbed by a shadowy presence which she refers to as a “baddie.” Ronan believes that Dodo imagined these things because of the children who bullied her in her kindergarten. Ronan tried to resolve the issue by meeting the principal and buying gifts for other students to treat Dodo amicably. When Ronan finds that Dodo has covered her doll’s eyes, scared of the baddie, Ronan asks her to remember her three favorite things in the world whenever she gets scared. Innocently, Dodo names pineapple and her stuffed toys Bunny and Woofy as her favorite things.
When Ronan goes to sell the property she lived in before, the agent is worried about the Buddha statues in the upper storey of the building. When Ronan converses with the agent, Dodo is led by a presence to the upper storey without anyone noticing. She follows the instructions of the presence and enters the room where all the mystifying Buddha statues are kept and watches the footage of the sacred tunnel that awakened the curse. Ronan is horrified when she finds her daughter watching the footage, aware of the dangerous ramification it posed. She leaves the premises quickly, but on her way back, Dodo experiences a partial paralysis that the doctors diagnoses as brain-induced Hemiparesis.
Ronan also starts experiencing the aftereffects of the curse once again, and her mental condition steadily declines. While at the hospital, a social worker informs Ronan that the court has revoked the custody rights. Ronan tries to escape with Dodo before social workers arrive to take her daughter away. She escapes with the help of Ming, the sympathetic owner of the foster home. Dodo grew up in, whom Dodo calls Daddy.
WHAT TABOO DID RONAN VIOLATE SIX YEARS AGO?
Flashbacks reveal that six years ago, Ronan was a part of a paranormal investigation with her boyfriend Dom and Dom’s cousin Yuan. The trio of Ghost Busters broke a religious taboo while documenting a ritual for their Internet channel, Strange Murmurs. They were going to the remote village of the Chen clan, the relatives of Dom and Yuan, to investigate a mysterious tunnel that casts misfortune upon anyone who passes through it. On the way, their car is stopped by a statue of Mother Buddha. Dom reveals that the clan practiced an esoteric Yunnan religion worshipping a deity called Mother Buddha. When they arrived at the village, Dom’s uncle told Ronan to return as she couldn’t take part in the rituals. When Dom introduces her as Dom’s girlfriend, they reluctantly let the outsider Ronan into their village. The trio was asked to submit their names with the incantation to the Mother Buddha. The clan elder told them that they must return every ten years to pray to Mother Buddha after offering their name. The clan elder informed Ronan that she was pregnant and that after her daughter was born, she must also do the same. Ronan was surprised as she had not realized she was pregnant.
That night, the Ghost Busters sneaked out and spied on the clan performing the ritual. The members of the clan were worshipping together, doing an incantation, and making a unique hand gesture. They met a young girl on their way out who was present during the ritual. The girl took Ronan inside and asked Dom and Yuan to stay outside. On entering the room, Ronan notices blood dripping from the ceiling. The girl took out a box from the room which had frogs inside. She asked Ronan to put her hair inside the box, and the frogs inside fed on the hair. When Ronan enquires about her wounded ear, the girl informs them that she was the chosen one and Mother Buddha took her flesh to give blessings to everyone.
Despite the clan’s warning, Yuan is determined to go inside the forbidden tunnel to capture the inside space on camera. Ronan, after having vomited, feels her health deteriorating. Once they reach the tunnel, they see the young girl they met earlier in front of the tunnel as if prepared for a sacrifice. She lay unconscious, and her body was covered in runes. Ronan waited with the unconscious girl while Dom and Yuan entered the tunnel after destroying its barricades. Strange noises were coming from the inside of the tunnel as if there were some children trapped in the interiors. After a while, Yuan emerged from the tunnel screaming and shouting for help. Dom seemed to have died inside the tunnel, and the village people carried his body out. Ronan came across several village people who had the incantation inscribed on their bodies. Yuan becomes possessed and tries to attack her before he finally takes his life. Ronan managed to escape from the chaos with the webcam that captured what happened inside the tunnel. However, she found out that the footage of the tunnel had been damaged and could not be played. When Ronan came back home, she tried showing the footage to people, but whoever saw it died instantly. She knew that she had been cursed by the Mother Buddha, and she had to find a way to not let it pass on to her daughter. After Dodo was born, Ronan left her at a foster care home and sought psychiatric help.
INCANTATION MOVIE ENDING EXPLAINED: DID RONAN FREE DODO FROM THE CURSE?
After escaping the social workers, Ronan and Dodo headed toward a shrine to lift the curse. The priest Mister Ching and his wife, Madam Ching, at the shrine, performed some cleansing rituals on the webcam that stores the footage of the tunnel and later agreed to risk their lives to exorcise Dodo. They forbid Dodo from eating anything for the next seven days, and Ronan reluctantly agreed. But when Dodo’s condition deteriorates with grotesque sores appearing all over her body, Ronan violates Dodo’s fast by feeding her a pineapple. When Ronan realizes the adverse effect of breaking the fast, she makes Dodo vomit the pineapple. But along with it comes a maggot, which makes her realize that she has failed to complete the exorcism. Ronan rushes Dodo back to the shrine to find Mister Ching dead. Madam Ching becomes possessed and takes her life. Dodo is found floating in the ceiling before falling back down to the floor.
In the meantime, Ming researches into the Chen clan’s religion and gets the damaged Ghost Busters footage of the tunnel from the night six years ago restored with the help of repairing software. When he dwells more on understanding the footage, his health keeps on deteriorating. Ming begins losing teeth and suffers nosebleeds. But he is persistent and finds a twisted text on a scroll in the footage. He flies to Yunnan to find a Tantric Buddhist monk who is one of the last people who could translate ancient Brahmic scriptures, which can reveal the origins of the incantation that the cult regularly uses as a supposed blessing. Ming forwards the video of the Yunnan monk to Ronan, explaining the disciples’ origins and the incantation’s meaning. Ming tells Ronan that he wouldn’t send the repaired footage of the tunnel to her. Ming apologizes to Ronan for reporting her inadequacy to Social Affairs Bureau. He becomes possessed and kills himself by smashing his head repeatedly against his computer, which forwards the video of the tunnel to Ronan.
Ronan addresses the audience about what she found in the video of the Yunnan monk sent by Ming. In Ronan’s words, the incantation “Hou-ho-xiu-Yi, si-sei-wu-ma” is an ancient religious blessing. This religion spread from Southeast Asia to Yunnan and to, where Dom’s family resides. The deity worshipped by their ancestors is called Dahi Mother-Buddha. It is a malicious deity, and they have inherited bad karma from generation to generation. They must use incantations to receive blessings. Therefore, if many people chant, the power of blessing will be gathered, and it will protect the person who chants it. She urges the audience to chant it collectively to save her daughter.
Ronan takes Dodo back to the hospital, where she recites the incantation at her unresponsive daughter’s bedside. At midnight, Dodo enters a trance and sleepwalks outside to a naked teenage girl with runes written all over her body lying unconscious. The girl turns out to be the girl from the Chen clan, and she is also taken inside the hospital. When Ronan comes across the girl, she secretly cuts off her right ear with a plan brewing in her mind.
DID RONAN LIE TO THE VIEWERS ABOUT THE INCANTATION?
Meanwhile, flashbacks reveal how the curse initially started when Ronan plays the tunnel footage. In the footage, we see Dom and Yuan entering the cursed tunnel, seeing a series of rituals designed to please the deity to maintain order and peace. The locals had placed multiple mirrors, among other things, in order to trap the negative energy of Mother Buddha and contain the curse. Dom and Yuan desecrated the sacred place by moving items inside the tunnel, filming things they shouldn’t see, and smashing some mirrors that contained the evil. When they reached the altar of the Mother Buddha, they found the face of the statue covered with a veil. They remove the veil and see the face, which is the heart of her power. Dom got possessed then and died after smashing his head. Thus, the curse originates from seeing the statue’s face and spreads to anyone who sees the symbol and says the incantation.
Deciding Dodo would be safe without her, she takes all of Dodo’s belongings to the foster home and makes a video for her in case she wakes up, instructing her to forget her mother and be happy. Ronan writes runes all over her body and returns to the forbidden tunnel, where she recites the incantation and offers the ear as a sacrifice. She requests the viewers to recite the incantation with her. Then Ronan confesses that she has been lying to the viewer all along. It is revealed that the priest in Yunnan had told Ming that the Buddha-Mother is, in fact, a malevolent entity. Once you submit your name with the incantation, you agree to spread the curse; instead of conveying blessings, reciting the incantation sacrifices one’s self to the curse. When more people chant the incantation, the curse gets spread out; it dilutes the curse and lightens the burden on those bearing it. The source of the curse is the Buddha-Mother’s face, which has to be covered. Ronan now reaches the altar inside the tunnel and asks the viewer for their name before revealing the Buddha-Mother’s wormhole-like face on camera. By tricking people into watching the tunnel video, Ronan hoped she could dilute the curse enough to lessen it for Dodo. She gets possessed and smashes her own head repeatedly on the altar. The film ends with the clip of a now happy and healthy Dodo, implying that the burden of her curse has been shared with everyone who watches the film. She can now lead a normal life because it has diluted enough that she is no longer ill.
INCANTATION MOVIE THEMES EXPLAINED:
EXPLORATION OF MOTHER’S UNDYING LOVE
Incantation centers around a mother’s unconditional love and eternal dedication toward her child and depicts the lengths a mother would go to protect her child. The film focuses on the efforts made by Ronan to regain custody of her biological daughter Dodo from the fostering system by proving her ability to take care of her, the ways in which she tries to make Dodo’s life comfortable, and the sacrifices she willingly makes for the better life of Dodo even at the expense of other’s lives. When the curse that struck her six years ago for trespassing in a forbidden area comes rearing back, she does not hesitate to confront the past and make a daring venture into the heart of the curse to save her daughter. Ultimately her love succeeds as she sacrifices herself for the sake of her beloved daughter and even requests her to forget her mother and be happy.
MOTHERHOOD DISQUALIFICATION AND GUILT
The film delves deeply into the psychological and emotional impact of motherhood and the guilt attached to the crisis of motherhood disqualification. Ronan’s life turned upside down six years ago when she was forced to relinquish parental rights due to her mental illness. Ronan’s genuine drive to be a mother comes equally from her love for her daughter and the guilt she feels for neglecting the duties of a primary caretaker. Li Ronan’s character is a fertile ground for fear and guilt as the outside world judges her for failing to take care of Dodo. She feels remorse for abandoning her daughter, but she also justifies the action for the well-being and protection of her daughter.
THE TRAUMA OF THE PAST AND KARMIC RETRIBUTION
Incantation thematically explores the mistakes of the past and the resultant haunting repercussions in the present. Blending the elements of mysterious local cults and eerie rituals of Taiwanese folklore, the film establishes the extent to which bad decisions can affect people in the future. Despite the warning from the members of the Chen clan, Dom and Yuan desecrated the forbidden tunnel and incurred the curse of Mother Buddha. The consequences of the sacrilege are suffered by Dom and Yuan instantly. At the same time, Ronan is bombarded by the aftermath of the past when she reunites with her daughter. Ronan not only loses her life in the process of lifting the curse from the daughter but also claims innumerable strangers in the cycle of the curse while resolving her karmic debt.