could be considered Taiwan’s version of the Slender Man. Purported internet
videos of the so-called “Little Girl in Red” silently following hiking parties
and reports of her leading stragglers astray have built her into a potent urban
legend. She makes the forest a scary place, but she finally starts trekking into
the city in Cheng Wei-hao’s The Tag-Along
which screens during the 2016 New York Asian Film Festival.
a senior citizen goes missing, it might be Red Riding Hood’s fault—at least
partially. She is most likely a “mosien” or forest ghost that often takes the
form of a child or monkey (we are told), but she might really just be a cog in
a larger supernatural wheel. Regardless, workaholic real estate agent He
Zhi-wei and his adult contempo radio DJ girlfriend Shen Yi-jun are initially happily
oblivious to viral ghost girls and elemental spirits. They work hard, but take
their relationship slow, which suits her better than him. In fact, his growing
impatience causes fissures between them, but they will put it all aside when He’s
grandmother mysteriously disappears.
seems she vanishes in much the same way her friend did—and eventually reappears
in similar fashion. Unfortunately, He soon disappears in like manner, only to
haunt Shen’s dreams and waking visions as a macabre insect-gorging specter. To
find him, Shen will face things going bump in the night and follow his cold trail
into a forest that radiates malevolence, in the Aokigahara tradition.
film’s basis in urban legend/internet meme is admittedly pretty creepy, so it
is rather disappointing when screenwriter Jian Shi-geng opens the story up to
less-defined cosmically woo-woo-ish paranormal agencies. In fact, the intimate focus
on personal relationships is what elevates Tag-Along.
Otherwise, it would be a rather standard evil forest horror film.
fact, Shen and He’s relationship feels credibly “lived-in.” Likewise, He’s
guilt over taking his missing grandmother for granted is rather quite poignant.
Yet, Cheng and Jian really crank up the emotional resonance when they reveal
the reason for Shen’s commitment phobia. However, the source of her guilt
probably guarantees Tag-Along will not
get picked up for American distribution, for fear of converting viewers to
lead Hsu Wei-ning (of Italian-Taiwanese heritage) is poised to break-out huge,
because Tag-Along did boffo business
in Taiwan and Shen is indeed the proactive protag. River Huang is more or less
adequate as He, but established veterans Liu Yin-shang and Zhang Bo-zhou really
deliver for Cheng as the grandmother and the security guard who assists Shen’s
investigation. The latter seems to have an inexhaustible supply of firecrackers
(they scare the spirits), which is good prepping on his part.
question, Tag-Along works better when
it operates in an urban setting. Cheng makes Taipei 101 look like a Tolkienesque
tower an insidiously builds the tension in the pre-war, gentrifying apartment
spaces. However, there is a lot of tromping through mossing trails when he
takes the action into the woods. Arguably, the film starts out vibing like Juno
Mak’s eerie Rigor Mortis, but morphs
into something closely akin to the okay but not exceptional The Forest. Still, if you enjoy a good
Blumhouse, Cheng uncorks enough to be worth your while. Recommended for rabid
horror fans, The Tag-Along screens
tomorrow (7/3) at the Walter Reade, as part of this year’s NYAFF.
Labels: Horror Movies, NYAFF '16, Taiwanese Cinema