The not-so-scary truth behind horror sensation ‘Incantation’ – The China Project (2022)

This month, the Taiwanese film Incantation (咒 zhòu) hit international Netflix: a found-footage horror movie following the experiences of a cursed woman — and the consequences of the curse. Viewers were quick to hype up the film, daring others online to try and sit through the whole thing.

Since its premiere in March, the movie has become the highest grossing Taiwanese horror film of all time, and Taiwan’s highest grossing film of 2022. Incantation also finds itself at the center of a debate on the Chinese social media platform Weibo. The hashtag “Is Incantation scary?” (咒吓人吗 zhòu xiàrén ma) has garnered millions of views. The ultimate consensus: not that scary, but still worth watching.

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(Video) Incantation | Official Trailer | Netflix

Something feels different with Incantation. Directed by Kevin Ko, the movie interacts with its viewers. The protagonist, Ronan (Tsai Hsuan-yen [蔡亘晏 Cài Gènyàn]), leads the audience through mind exercises, directing chants to be spoken. By the end of the movie, you feel like you’ve been tricked. Maybe cursed.

The movie is set around Ronan’s curse after she breaks a religious taboo while ghost-hunting in Yunnan province. Ronan and her two friends visit a remote village practicing an extreme form of Buddhism. They become wrapped up in a local ritual, unknowingly binding themselves to Dahei Mother Buddha.

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During their ghost-hunt in forbidden parts of the village, Ronan’s two companions face disturbing deaths. She leaves the village and returns home, haunted by a supernatural curse. Ronan falls in and out of raising her six-year-old daughter Dodo (Huang Sin-ting), who faces similar strange occurrences.

Incantation opens with “Based on a True Story,” and most have guessed its inspiration comes from an ominous incident that took place in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. In 2005, a family there claimed to be possessed by demons, performing disturbing ritual acts and killing their two daughters. But what the movie really wants you to think is that it’s the curse at the film’s center that is real. Citing a modified form of Tantric Buddhism and Brahmic script, the movie explains how the religion traveled from Southeast Asia to Yunnan province. The story also conjures up its own symbols and rituals. But how “true” is it, really?

Let’s take a closer look.

Dahei Mother Buddha

The not-so-scary truth behind horror sensation ‘Incantation’ – The China Project (1)

The curse and religion in Incantation revolve around the worship of Dàhēi Fúmǔ 大黑佛母. This is a fictitious deity that isn’t present in any religious mythology. Instead, its inspiration likely comes from Tantric Buddhist figures Dàhēitiān 大黑天 and Dàhēinǚ 大黑女. Specifically, Daheitian was sent to share blessings among poor people. This ties back to a part of the film’s curse backstory: that misfortune and blessing are intertwined.

In ancient Brahmanism, a version of Dahei exists as “Kali.” There was a real-life case where a cult worshipper of Kali subjected herself to blood sacrifice. In 2016, a woman cut off her tongue in worship of Kali in the hope that the goddess would fulfill her wishes. We see similar sacrifices in Incantation, where a young girl cuts off her ear to appease Dahei.

In India, Māyā, the Mother of Gautama Buddha, laid the foundations for the teachings of Buddhism. In Chinese, she is known as Móyé Fūrén 摩耶夫人. Tradition says she died soon after giving birth to Buddha, returning to life after seven days. This draws an eerie parallel to a subplot in the movie: Ronan visits a temple to seek help for her dying daughter Dodo, where a priest orders Dodo to not eat for seven days. Only after that can they lift the curse.

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In the film, statues of Dahei have her face covered with a cloth. It’s implied that Dahei’s real power rests in her face — and if anyone removes the cloth and looks, they are destined for a gruesome death. Ronan’s two friends unveil the face of Mother Buddha in a forbidden tunnel, and frightening chaos ensues. That is one of many taboos they break. It isn’t until the end of the film that we the audience see the deity’s face. (My deepest condolences for any viewers with trypophobia.)

There is no Tantric Buddhist practice of covering a deity’s face. In fact, traditionally Buddhist statues should face a door or window for clarity. In the film, Dahei is turned away from onlookers. There is a clear disconnect from fact here, but the artistic choice to position and dress the Mother Buddha statues adds to the movie’s creepiness.

The incantation

The not-so-scary truth behind horror sensation ‘Incantation’ – The China Project (2)

Throughout the movie, Ronan begs the audience to chant “Hou ho xiu yi, si sei wu ma” (as rendered in the English subtitles; in Chinese, it is 火佛修一,心薩嘸哞). She tells us that reciting this incantation will stop the curse from escalating in the moment. Ming (Kao Ying-hsuan [高英轩 Gāo Yīngxuān]), Dodo’s caretaker from her brief stint in foster care, does some online digging to find the origins. His findings eventually lead him to a secluded monk practicing Tantric Buddhism in Yunnan — one of few who can translate the incantation. He is told the incantation comes from a Minnan dialect, meaning: “Misfortune and blessing depend on one another, death and life lies in the name.” There is a twist, which I will not reveal for fear of spoiling it.

The Minnan language originated in Fujian province. Min Chinese spans across a broad range of Sinitic dialects, which are spoken mainly in Fujian and much of Taiwan. Min Chinese is practiced along the coastal regions of eastern China, spanning from lower Zhejiang down to the island province of Hainan. Yunnan lies southwest of the language’s influence. So it’s not impossible that Minnan could have made its way there, especially if the monk is from the Minnan region.

The “Hou ho xiu yi, si sei wu ma” mantra bears no relation to any of Tantric Buddhism’s spiritual practices. Tantra religions do share a commonality: sacraments or rituals are used to conjure divine energies. We can see vestiges of this idea in Incantation: a sacramental young girl is covered in writing, used in ritualistic practices to appease Mother Buddha. This extreme practice is not found in Tantric Buddhism.

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The hand gesture

The not-so-scary truth behind horror sensation ‘Incantation’ – The China Project (3)

A specific hand gesture accompanies the chant — which later in the movie is found to be rooted in a modified version of “bāfāng tiān” 八方天 in Tantric Buddhism. Ming even unearths how-to YouTube videos of the hand motion — except the people in the esoteric village sign it backwards.

After some digging, I found no similar Buddhist hand gestures performed forwards or backwards.

The symbol

The not-so-scary truth behind horror sensation ‘Incantation’ – The China Project (4)

Then comes the infamous symbol that Ronan directs audiences to memorize. The symbol itself doesn’t correlate with any modern Chinese characters. At most it mimics some features of simple incantation images — but not enough to warrant a sensible comparison. But it is mesmerizing, and its details add to the terrifyingly realistic world of this made-up religion.

The esoteric religious community in Incantation is fictitious — though some parts feel real. The film takes components of Tantric Buddhism and Brahmic script and spins them into a new reality. It is true that Tantric Buddhism took hold in China in the 700s, during the Tang Dynasty. Tantra masters traveled from India to China, bringing their esoteric teachings. Tantric Buddhism subsequently grew in popularity, influencing other forms of Buddhism that reached China. However, Tantric Buddhism is rooted in the peaceful use of the mandala (geometric symbols), mantra (religious phrases), and mudra (ritual gesture). Incantation takes these principles and runs in a very different direction. Is it a scary direction? That we’ll let you decide.

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The not-so-scary truth behind horror sensation ‘Incantation’ – The China Project (5)

FAQs

What is the true story behind Incantation? ›

Incantation opens with “Based on a True Story,” and most have guessed its inspiration comes from an ominous incident that took place in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. In 2005, a family there claimed to be possessed by demons, performing disturbing ritual acts and killing their two daughters.

Is the movie Incantation safe to watch? ›

Rest assured though that the movie itself isn't real, and all the found footage is completely fake, so nothing bad will happen if you watch it. So, if you're feeling brave, you can watch Incantation on Netflix right now.

Is Mother Buddha in Incantation real? ›

Kevin Ko explained that the Mother-Buddha, hand gestures, chant, symbols and everything associated with the religion in the film are all fictitious.

How scary is Incantation movie? ›

Incantation does not rely on any of those typical horror movie factors, so it's not really “scary” in the traditional sense. Instead, Ko manages to terrify us using suspense and dread, built on the intimacy and psychological terror of the heroine.

Is the mantra in Incantation real? ›

Thus, Ronan's 'parenting diary' footage is actually fooling the viewers to receive the curse in order to free Dodo from the consequences of her wrongdoing in the past. Even though the religion, ritual, and mantra were fictional, there's a real incident that inspires this story.

What is the curse in Incantation? ›

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.

Does Incantation have Jumpscared? ›

It's much more terrifying than that. Watch at your own discretion. Warning: This story contains minor spoilers for 'Incantation'.

Is the footage in Incantation real? ›

In subverting the found footage subgenre, Incantation manages to make the horror of its film all the more real.

Is Incantation a psychological horror? ›

Incantation Movie Review: Intense psychological horror film that tends to obfuscate every now and th- Cinema express.

What happens if you look at Mother Buddha? ›

Mother Buddha is a powerful god whose face is the heart of her power. Combined with a ceremonial prayer, anyone who either sees the deity or participates in the rituals is fated to die a gruesome death.

What is a female Buddha called? ›

In the Himalayan region, especially in Tibet and Nepal, Tara's status is more that of a supreme goddess or female buddha than a bodhisattva. She is referred to as the Wisdom Goddess, the Embodiment of Perfected Wisdom, the Goddess of Universal Compassion, and the Mother of all Buddhas.

Is Incantation curse true? ›

Incantation is not a true story. The “found footage” in the movie is fake. Everyone you see on screen is an actor. There is no “true story” of a curse or a demon that will possess your body.

Why is Incantation so disturbing? ›

However, a major plot twist revealed that the chant was actually a curse people had been reciting at home, which left viewers traumatized and thought they were cursed themselves, with the help of the realistic props and the fact it's loosely based on a true story.

Why do people think Incantation is scary? ›

1. It pulverises the fourth wall. The first, and perhaps most important reason, is that the movie not only breaks the fourth wall, it completely pulverises it. The fourth wall is an imaginary wall that separates the realities of actors from the audience.

Which is the least scary Harry Potter movie? ›

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Not only is Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes Of Grindelwald the worst reviewed Harry Potter movie, it also happens to be one of the least scary.

What do you call someone who does incantations? ›

So it can be said that an enchanter or enchantress casts magic spells, or utters incantations.

Do incantations use faith? ›

Incantations are Faith-based spells in Elden Ring. Classes that don't start with a Seal need to progress a short while until they can get their own.

Who can use incantations? ›

All classes and all players can get and use Incantations, providing you tailor your stats to meet their minimum requirements. However, only two classes start with the ability to use Incantations, which I think is where some of the confusion is coming from.

Does the little girl died in Incantation? ›

She sacrificed her life by bashing her head on the wall inside the tunnel. But her efforts weren't in vain. The curse was lifted from Dodo, and she survived, implying that now it was shared by all those who had watched the video and recited that incantation.

What is Incantation in psychology? ›

n. ritualistic chanting, singing, or speaking.

What happened Incantation? ›

But the curse soon becomes too much for Ronan to bear, and she commits suicide. At the end of Incantation, we see a brief clip of Dodo, alive and happy. It seems that Ronan's theory was correct, and her footage was found and viewed. She was able to save her daughter.

Can kids watch Incantation? ›

Parents need to know that Incantation is a 2022 Taiwanese supernatural horror movie in which a woman must save herself and her daughter from a religious curse she unleashed six years ago. Expect horror movie violence, including constant creepy visuals and close-ups of bloody imagery.

Who is black nose in Incantation? ›

Black Nose is an elk rescued as a calf by Bane Perez.

How does Incantation end? ›

The final moments of Incantation showed that Dodo was alright, despite losing her mother and foster father. The last scene made it clear that Li Ronan's plan worked, proving her theory of the curse to be correct. The film ended with another footage of Dodo well and alive, recovering from her critical medical condition.

What are beastly incantations? ›

Bestial Incantations are a group of Incantations in Elden Ring that share a specific type of buff criteria. Bestial Incantations revolve around primal and feral abilities. There are a total of 6 Bestial Incantations available for players. Bestial Incantations can be boosted by certain items, such as the Clawmark Seal.

Why can't I use my Incantation? ›

To actually perform the spell, you need to have your Sacred Seal in hand. This is the catalyst you need to cast a spell. If the incantation is your ammunition, the Sacred Seal is your gun. There are many types of seals that can be found throughout Elden Ring.

What happened at the end of incantation? ›

The final moments of Incantation showed that Dodo was alright, despite losing her mother and foster father. The last scene made it clear that Li Ronan's plan worked, proving her theory of the curse to be correct. The film ended with another footage of Dodo well and alive, recovering from her critical medical condition.

What is incantation in psychology? ›

n. ritualistic chanting, singing, or speaking.

Where is incantation from? ›

Johnstown, Pennsylvania, U.S.

What is the difference between a spell and an incantation? ›

Some types of incantations include buffing your weapon with Holy, Frost, or Bleed damage, raining down Fire-damaging projectiles, sweeping the area in front of you with a large magical tail, and more. Whereas sorcery spells are mostly meant for strong damage output and offense, incantations fill more of a support role.

Is the footage in Incantation real? ›

In subverting the found footage subgenre, Incantation manages to make the horror of its film all the more real.

Is the ritual in Incantation true? ›

Incantation is not a true story. The “found footage” in the movie is fake. Everyone you see on screen is an actor. There is no “true story” of a curse or a demon that will possess your body.

Who is black nose in Incantation? ›

Black Nose is an elk rescued as a calf by Bane Perez.

What are beastly incantations? ›

Bestial Incantations are a group of Incantations in Elden Ring that share a specific type of buff criteria. Bestial Incantations revolve around primal and feral abilities. There are a total of 6 Bestial Incantations available for players. Bestial Incantations can be boosted by certain items, such as the Clawmark Seal.

What are the five types of magic? ›

The five magics in the song are listed as Alchemy, Sorcery, Wizardry, Thermatology, and Electricity.

What do you call someone who does incantations? ›

So it can be said that an enchanter or enchantress casts magic spells, or utters incantations.

What happened Incantation? ›

But the curse soon becomes too much for Ronan to bear, and she commits suicide. At the end of Incantation, we see a brief clip of Dodo, alive and happy. It seems that Ronan's theory was correct, and her footage was found and viewed. She was able to save her daughter.

Does Incantation have Jumpscares? ›

It's much more terrifying than that. Watch at your own discretion. Warning: This story contains minor spoilers for 'Incantation'.

Is Incantation death doom? ›

Important bands in the style

Some of the most famous death/doom metal bands are Paradise Lost, (early) Katatonia, (early) Anathema, Swallow the Sun, Amorphis, My Dying Bride and Novembers Doom. It's also popular to include the slower, dirgier death metal bands like Asphyx, Autopsy, Incantation and Winter.

What is a person who uses magic called? ›

A magician, also known as an enchanter/enchantress, mage, magic-user, sorcerer/sorceress, spell-caster, warlock, witch, or wizard, is someone who uses or practices magic derived from supernatural, occult, or arcane sources.

What is the strongest spell in Elden Ring? ›

Comet Azur

Comet Azur is not simply the most potent Elden Ring spell, but also the most overpowered strike in the entire game. Elden Ring's Kamehameha spell, Comet Azur, is similar to that. It continuously fires a large beam that is strong enough to kill bosses in a single blow.

What is the oldest word for magic? ›

Ancient Mediterranean world

The root word for magic (Greek: mageia; Latin: magia) derives from the Greek term magoi, which refers to a Median tribe in Persia and their religion, Zoroastrianism.

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