Film review: The Tag-Along – Taiwanese urban legend spawns atmospheric yet banal horror

First-time director Cheng Wei-hao pulls out all the clichés in this best-selling tale of haunting and ghosts

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 March, 2016, 8:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 March, 2016, 10:16am

In the home video footage that spawned an urban legend in 1998, a creepy looking little girl in a red dress was seen following a group of hikers on a mountain trail in Taichung, Taiwan. At the hands of first-time director Cheng Wei-hao, the promise of the grainy video is at once built on and compromised in The Tag-Along, an effective mix of familiar scares that puts in regrettably little effort to recreate the clip’s spine-chilling scenario.

After the grandmother (Liu Yin-shang) he cohabits with vanishes under spooky circumstances, property agent Wei (River Huang) continues to sense her presence until he, too, sees a ghost and goes missing himself. But not before he reappears in front of his radio DJ girlfriend Yi-chun (Tiffany Hsu Wei-ning) as a yucky spectre, eating worms from a plate while letting maggots crawl on his face – or is it all in her mind?

While Yi-chun wants neither marriage nor children, she isn’t ready to let Wei go without a fight. As she researches into the myth about “mosien” (the pre-credit titles describe them as ghosts that appear in the shape of children or monkeys), Yi-chun soon encounters a parade of cliches commonly seen in Japanese horror films – right down to the pale-faced girl scuttling on all fours in dimly lit spaces.

As The Tag-Along eventually follows the haunted woman deep into the mountains to look for her boyfriend, the story descends into a mass of contradictory clarifications that conveniently borrow the “tree spirits” concept from the Han-dynasty text Classic of Mountains and Seas one minute, resort to the old story of abortion remorse the next, while never quite getting around to explain who the girl in red really is.

But if there’s any justice in the cinema world, the popular TV actress Hsu should see her film career take off the way Lee Sinje’s did after the hit ghost movie The Eye (2002). After all, The Tag-Along has become one of Taiwan’s highest grossing horror flicks in living memory – without even the benefit of being especially original or memorable.

The Tag-Along opens on March 17

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