Tagging along a predictable path of horror

Hsu Wei-ning is the radio DJ's girlfriend who is next on the missing list.
Hsu Wei-ning is the radio DJ's girlfriend who is next on the missing list.PHOTO: GOLDEN VILLAGE



93 minutes/Opens tomorrow/3.5 stars

The story: Taipei housing agent Wei's (River Huang) grandma suddenly goes missing before returning in a peculiar altered state. Wei is similarly stricken before vanishing. His radio DJ girlfriend, Yi-chun (Hsu Wei-ning), is next on the list and she needs to find out what is going on. A spooky little girl following hikers through a mountain trail seems to be the cause of the strange disappearances.

The Tag-Along, Taiwan's highest- grossing horror in the last 10 years, sure contains moments that really do unnerve.

The creepiness in a dark apartment as a child scampers furtively past and an old woman walks silently across the room like a zombie.

The suspense in a vast bewildering forest as the spook-stalked gal, Yi-chun, gets lost on the mountain trail while trying to find her missing boyfriend, Wei.

And, oh, the little-girl-in-red crawling relentlessly in Ju On-style close-ups here is not someone you would want at a kid's party, for sure.

Making his debut feature, director Cheng Wei-hao knows how to stage both his interiors and exteriors for chills.

While the film is not outright hands-in-front-of-eyes frightening, Cheng has crafted a movie with enough effective scares so that it would not embarrass itself at a serious horror convention.

But its de rigueur get-your- money's-worth ending with horror-flick overkill lets it down.

The film needs to find a way to make supernatural sense of an urban legend that has fascinated and spooked Taiwan since the 1990s. In a twisted version of Little Red Riding Hood, the "mosien", or a poltergeist-type ghost in the form of a mischievous child or monkey, follows and then snatches hikers in the forested Taiwanese hills.

One apparent real-life encounter even has video footage of an unidentified kid tagging along on a funeral.

Director Cheng inserts this creepy scene in the movie - a grainy video captured on phone camera - to good effect.

You just wish he had stayed more on this sort of old-school horror route before offering a modern eco-awareness spin to the whole thing.

"Every tree has a soul," someone here says, suggesting a spirit replacement theory for the felling of Taiwan's aged forests. Hence, one by one, Wei's hapless family falls victim to this inescapable ritual of substitution where people lose their minds and their calling out somebody's name for help ends up cursing that person.

Still, The Tag-Along scores over the average chiller. It is not slack in packaging a back-story with quiet, hidden moments of personal trouble that heighten the enveloping tension.

There is a darkly domestic reason why this family is targeted here. Grandma's place in the kitchen becomes sinister; Yi-chun's reluctance to marry and have a child hides a grim secret; and Wei's yearnings to "go home and eat with Grandma" turn menacing.

Little glimpses of quaint Taiwanese customs are portrayed. For instance, to take on the supernatural, it is all down to noisy firecrackers and beautiful, classy Ann Hsu spouting hilarious Hokkien vulgarities.

If only The Tag-Along had stayed on this curious, provincial path instead of taking one right into the large, predictable woods.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 20, 2016, with the headline 'Tagging along a predictable path of horror'. Print Edition | Subscribe