A surprise smash hit in Taiwan, The Tag-Along draws inspiration from a Taiwanese urban legend dating back to the 1990s stemming from a home video turned viral internet sensation. The video infamously saw a little girl in red following a group of mountain climbers trekking along a trail, unaware of her presence. Similar sightings of the little girl were since reported, until it snowballed into common folklore that refers to the little girl as mosien, a ghost that takes the shape of a child or monkey and preys upon the fear and guilt of its victims.
After a pre-credit title card that explains what a mosien is, the film introduces lead Wei, an overworked real estate agent living with his ornery grandmother, and Yi-chun, Wei’s radio DJ girlfriend. While the narrative establishes the conflicts and relationships between the characters, it wastes no time bringing the mosien into the fold. Wei’s grandmother lives in a retirement community, and one of her friends has gone missing. Wei’s grandmother encounters paranormal happenings in her own home just before she disappears. It’s the grandmother’s disappearance that involves Wei, and subsequently Yi-chun, as the spooky events escalate and more people vanish.
First time director Cheng Wei-hao sets up an aesthetically pleasing, yet paint-by-numbers supernatural horror. For a while, nothing feels atypical about this ghost story; the jump scares are often rendered ineffective by predictability. From wind rustling, eerie whispers, doors creaking open, and electricity that refuses to cooperate during peak paranormal activity. It doesn’t help that when we do glimpse the mosien, it’s another long-haired, pale-faced girl that prefers to eerily move on all fours. Or that the ghost effects are painfully obvious CGI. Yet, it’s at this precise moment, when the impression is beginning to sink in that this may be another Ring imitation that the narrative takes a sharp turn.
Up until this point, not only has Wei been our lead but we’ve been empathetic in his hardworking attempt at wooing his long-time love into marriage. Strongly independent Yi-chun, on the other hand, remains adamant in her opposition to both marriage and children. Between this and Wei’s devastation over his missing grandmother, the viewer becomes firm in Wei’s corner. It’s at this moment that the rug is pulled out from under us when Wei also falls victim to the mosien and disappears. The focus shifts to Yi-chun, desperate to find out what happened to both Wei and his grandmother as the mosien begins closing in on her as well.
It’s an interesting tactic, one that effectively heightens the emotional stakes and provides a more compelling lead. Not only is she the stronger of the two, but her character arc makes for a more satisfying story. Yi-chun has been the bearer of a dark secret, which is finally exposed in harrowing detail in the final act.
Actually, it’s the final act that proves the film’s greatest strength. The narrative finally eschews the trite supernatural haunting and morphs into full blown folklore terror in the forest. It feels like Taiwan’s equivalent of Corin Hardy’s take on dark Irish fairytales in The Hallow, and it immediately makes sense as to why The Tag-Along became a huge hit in its native country. While marred with poor CG, the final showdown between Yi-chun and the mountain demon gives more insight to Taiwan’s folklore and traditions than the preceding haunting fare. The mosien becomes the most interesting during the climax, and it feels a little disappointing that so much time was wasted on standard jump scares.
Cheng Wei-hao’s direction makes some sense, though. He’s merged mainstream horror with rich folklore steeped in tradition. The film shines when Yi-chun and the mosien mythology take the spotlight, but the jump scare tactics and poor CGI work drags the narrative down. Problematic first half aside, there’s an effective emotional payoff and unique lore for those with patience. I suspect The Tag-Along is a franchise in the making.
The Tag-Along will make its U.S. Premiere at the NYAFF on Saturday, July 3rd.
The Tag-Along [NYAFF Review]
Though hindered by obvious CG effects, this would-be tedious ghost flick morphs into a surpisingly fun exploration of Taiwan folklore with an effective emotional center.