Crazy for footage
Warning: no, spell is not as terrifying as its reputation has made it seem (especially by the Taiwanese press). No barrier of horror or unbearable is crossed here. On the contrary, its virtue would rather be not to aim for absolute dread, but for the insidious. Kevin Ko offers us a story whose ingenious engine is superstition. In order to confuse our rational perception of things with the disquieting illusion of the film, he tries to return to a rather strained genre. : found footage.
Of Cannibal Holocaust at CloverfieldPassing by The Blair Witch Project, the found footage (literally “found video”) is now well known. By using the diegetic amateurism of the cameramen as a pretext, many horror films have been able to combine a significant economy of means with more impactful effects. The subjective point of view and the proximity to the characters amplify the fear, especially on more innocuous elements than in classic horror.
spell is classic found footage at first sight. Without being yet another disguised variation of Paranormal Activity, he actually drags along the faults of his peers. Most notable being that the feature film does not respect the rule of the permanent subjective point of view. The protagonists film with the aim of making sensationalist videos on YouTube and, from there, there is supposed to be only one camera. However, the staging does not stop there.
Cameras that aren’t supposed to exist show us reverse shots of Lee Jo-nan in places where she’s supposed to be alone. Diegetic-only videos are dropped in order to show us character reactions. We then often obtain a more standard editing of the action, betraying its bias. Otherwise, spell is even more egregious than its predecessors in the genre when it despises its exercise in style. In reality, we feel that the director voluntarily breaks the immersion of the film in favor of something else.
In fact, here, Kevin Ko’s priority is not to keep us in suspense on a condensed format where everything is conducive to the start. Rather, he seeks to construct a disturbing esotericism through the various recordings of the film.. It’s a good idea, but unfortunately, the film also suffers from a backlash: some pacing issues and a confusing narrative structure..
be nice, rewind
As the ancient theater had the rule of three units in order to preserve the clarity of its story, the found footage would do well to respect a certain linearity so that we don’t get lost. Already, the film here is too long, and in addition loses its viewer on several storylines in different places and times nothing to make the story easier to read.
The construction of the film tends to recompose the mystery surrounding the sect with which Lee-Jo-nan and his friends have had to deal. Thus, several recordings intertwine with an interval of six years, alternating between the events at the origin of the curse and the consequences of it when the character of Hsuan-yen Tsai is reunited with his daughter. Between the two eras, everything is confused.
Since the film never explicitly indicates where we are in space and time, we are disoriented in the action and we do not always understand what is happening to the characters and why. This also leads to a break in tone between the scenes: we go from a brutal suicide to a moment of mother-daughter complicity without organic transition. The tension that we should feel on the long course is thus clumsily diluted.
Too bad that a very captivating horror mystery turns into an indecipherable puzzle. By gaining readability, the plot ofspell we would have invested a hundred times more in the occult investigation to which the film invites us. It is all the more striking that we feel that he is trying to trap us (especially in his outcome) by turning our curiosity against us. This famous ugly defect that the superstitious makes criminal, but which motivates any good intrepid investigator.
From there, we share with our heroine and her companions the same fault. This complicity justifies Lee-Jo-nan taking us on his descent into hell. This is exactly where the found footage format gains meaning: the barrier between the characters and us tends to be as indistinct as possible. Kevin Ko’s film draws its greatest asset in a meta-narrative occultism. It comes to question our belief in the irrational by confronting it with the recorded events that we witness.
N THE CURSED
In order to really create discomfort in the spectator and through his screen, spell stays away from traditional Christian exorcisms to offer us a terrifying paganme buddhist. The codes of the exorcism film are generally respected (we find the evil imaginary friend and the possessions in shambles), but its much less familiar mythology manages to destabilize. On the program: Junji Ito-style body degradation (watch out for trypophobia!), worm invasions and grueling rituals.
The body horror, quite present, is relatively spared to the spectator. It only helps to connect our sense of physical suffering to the fate of the characters and to glimpse the dark future that awaits the targets of this supernatural evil. Such empathy is necessary for the same reason that Lee-Jo-nan addresses us directly in his confessions. The film does not invite the viewer to passivity. It also starts by putting it to the test against an optical illusion. The feature film quickly becomes a frightening entity that breaks the fourth wall – almost a character in its own right. spell becomes a real haunted movie.
Looking at him (even in the shelter, from Netflix), you expose yourself to its curse. As in Ring, the reproduction and video broadcast of bad luck are at the heart of the narrative. So the film actually works well on a streaming platform. whose primary goal is the transmission of images to as many people as possible.
FinallySpell reveals its total potential in its last part, when the puzzle is complete and the trap closes. After the final revelations (and a nice tension on the tunnel exploration sequence), we attack the decisive phase. The climax binds us irrevocably to the ultimate invocation of the unreal, mixing guttural and incantatory songs with disturbing visuals.
It is then that all the immersion in the film is revived for an excellent final sequence of pagan terror. The most terrible (and brilliant) shot of the film almost closes the whole experience. The real curse suddenly reveals itself and its true nature absolutely lives up to our fears. Superstition descends upon us. We are haunted.
Incantation is available since July 8, 2022 on Netflix in France.