Is Incantation based on a true story? The strange inspiration behind the movie


Incantation, the Taiwanese found-footage horror film, is making the rounds as one of Netflix’s promising film ventures of 2022. During its initial screening at film festivals and in theatres, Incantation went on to become the highest-grossing horror film in Taiwan’s cinematic history.

The film’s subject matter deals with the consequences of “being cursed after breaking a religious taboo” and draws inspiration from an unexplainable real-life incident that transpired in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. However, the involvement of a paranormal element in the true event is disputed and the film also takes creative liberties from the source of inspiration.

Incantation is loosely based on the 2005 incident of Kaohsiung where a family claimed to be possessed by deities

The plot of Incantation is borrowed from a true tragedy that occurred to a Taiwanese family who experienced a prolonged episode of shared delusion.

In the spring of 2005, a family of six (by the surname of Wu) residing in Kaohsiung’s Gushan District claimed to be possessed by religious deities and began inflicting various forms of violence on one another. The bizarre acts included hitting each other with sticks, burning skin with lit incense, and force-feeding excrements to each other to get rid of demons from their bodies.

The Wu family began acting out by claiming to be possessed by Chinese folk figures such as the “Third Prince”, “Jade Emperor”, “Queen Mother”, “Qi Jia” and “Seven Fairies”. They malnourished themselves by only drinking water for the next few days.

Within a month, the eldest daughter passed away due to exhaustion, starvation, and injuries from the beatings she received from the rest of the family. Furthermore, the family did not seek medical help for her while she succumbed to her injuries since they believed that they were expelling the demon’s spirit from her body.

Investigators were dumbfounded at the family’s reasoning for their actions and they were sent for psychiatric evaluation. The doctors of the local hospital’s Department of Psychiatry diagnosed them with shared delusional disorder and attributed the events to mass hysteria. However, what caused the family’s spiral into delusion is still unknown and remains a mystery to this day.

Subsequently, the five members were indicted on reckless endangerment of the eldest daughter which caused her preventable death.

Director Kevin Ko incorporated fictional religious elements into the movie as well

Apart from the real-life derivations, Incantation also employs fictional religious elements in its plot. For instance, the ‘Buddha-Mother’ deity that plays a pivotal role in the movie has no basis in reality. Moreover, the religious chants, mantras, and symbols portrayed are all fictional.

Director Kevin Ko debunked the stories about the statue of the Buddha-Mother, as seen in the movie, being a real statue and explained:

“The design and production of the big, black Buddha statue cost us the most money and we put all our money in there. It was all made by us – the gestures, incantations, and spell symbols. However, if you keep wondering if it is a real god, then it just means that our art team is really amazing.”