Ho Chih-wei (River Huang) lives in a Taipei apartment with his grandmother Shu-fang (Liu Yin-shang). He works as a junior real estate agent while dating his girlfriend of five years, Shen Yi-chun (Tiffany Hsu Wei-ning). His aunt Shui has gone missing, and a video of her on a mountainside walk shows a mysterious girl in a red dress walking behind her. Before long, Shu-fang is hearing voices in the apartment – and then she too disappears.
The Tag-Along is a 2015 Taiwanese horror film directed by Cheng Wai-hao. It takes its inspiration from a local 1998 urban myth inspired by a viral video of a group of tourists walking a mountain track – with a creepy and unacknowledged young girl in a red outfit walking behind them. At first it seems the film is using that video as a springboard for every Asian horror stereotype imaginable. Creepy ghosts are barely glimpsed, frightening noises echo about the place, and characters vanish – seemingly without trace.
The film’s first half is competently produced but lacks originality. Then at the halfway point yet another character disappears from their home, and The Tag-Along jumps into a surprising new direction with a number of unexpected new ideas. By its conclusion the film has made enough of a stab into this new area that it is able to stand on its own two feet. It is not a masterpiece, but it is certainly a very enjoyable and creepy horror film with its own creative angle and niche in the genre.
Tiffany Hsu is great as Yi-chun. She begins the film feeling like something of a victim-in-waiting, but the further the story progresses the more central to the action she becomes. During the film’s third act she presents a particularly strong level of appeal; she is, all in all, the cast’s strongest asset. Liu yin-shang plays Wei’s grandmother broadly but effectively. As Wei, River Huang seems a slightly idiosyncratic choice; he is working with a script that does not always reflect the character in the best of lights.
The film brings a blend of urban myth and traditional folklore. Each elements works well in isolation, but when piecing them all together things feel a little over-complicated and messy. There is perhaps a little too much explained by the film’s end – on some levels it feels less scary, on others it feels like creative opportunities are being left on the floor. Moment to moment The Tag Along has plenty to recommend it. Overall it feels as if it needs one more solid rewrite to properly succeed. Cinematographer Chen Ko-chin soaks Taipei in a suitable miasma of dulled colours and off-putting hues. Both sound design and Rockid Lee’s musical score are suitably creepy but unadventurous. The film barrels along at a hell of a pace. The first few minutes are arguably too fast, but it slows down and finds a stronger rhythm as it goes.
The Tag Along is imperfect, but gains a lot of appeal through its later creative ideas. Hsu’s strong performance and – for international viewers – its fascinating use of Taiwanese culture, folklore, and urban mythology set it apart from other Chinese language horror works. Its success in domestic cinemas led to both a sequel and prequel, both of which expand its use of the elements that worked effectively here.