Taiwanese A-lister Rainie Yang plays a traumatized single mom searching for her missing pregnant teen daughter in the second entry in Taiwan's homegrown record-breaking horror franchise.

Two years after reigniting Taiwan's moribund scary-movie scene with The Tag-Along, Cheng Wei-hao delivers a sequel that ups the first film's ante in nearly every respect. With a bigger budget, The Tag-Along 2 boasts a bona fide Taiwanese A-lister as its lead and comes with a more intense array of special effects; meanwhile, the film has also outshone its predecessor at the box office, having just become Taiwan's highest-grossing horror movie in the past decade with takings of more than $3.3 million.

That's the upside: The downside is how The Tag-Along 2 also amplifies nearly everything that was wrong with the first installment of this franchise-in-the-making. Anchoring the story with the child-related traumas of four women instead of just the one in the original film, Cheng repeats (and magnifies) the previous pic's descent from a crazy, scary movie to conservative, sentimental mush. And for every attempt to fill in a plot hole in the first entry, screenwriters Chien Shih-keng (who penned The Tag-Along) and Yang Wan-yu somehow reproduce a few more — a cynical move, perhaps, to make audiences return for the inevitable third entry?

Packed with past, present and future moms, The Tag-Along 2 might as well be retitled mothers! Then again, this film hardly bears any resemblance whatsoever to Darren Aronofsky's high-concept allegorical horror: With its reliance on old-school jump-scare tropes and even more old-fashioned ideas about how women should relate to maternity — childbirth and child-rearing are always sacred, while divine punishment beckons for those who abort or merely think about it — The Tag-Along is a horror flick offering simple sensations and simplistic morality lessons. It also contrasts sharply with Cheng's previous outing Who Killed Cock Robin?, a much more complex suspense thriller which soared both in Taiwan and also Asian markets.

In The Tag-Along 2, Mother #1 is Shu-fen (singer and rom-com royalty Rainie Yang), a social worker juggling with protecting other people's children at work while raising a rebellious teenager at home. While visiting a case, Shu-fen meets Mother #2: Madam Lin (Francesca Kao) is a seemingly unhinged single mother trying to protect her young daughter from a "demon" by painting hexes on the girl's body and confining her to a small, amulet-filled room.

After tearing the girl from Lin's arms and into public custody, Shu-fen arrives home and meets Mother #3: Her own daughter, the 15-year-old Ya-ting (Ruby Zhan), is pregnant. As if dealing with her delinquent "clients" at work, Shu-fen swiftly brings the teenager to the doctor and tries to get her to terminate her pregnancy. Refusing to sign up for the operation, Ya-ting walks out on her mother after she describes teenage motherhood as potentially life-wrecking — a remark the schoolgirl considers a barbed critique of her very own existence as a child of a young, single mother.

After the row, Ya-ting is reported missing in class, and surveillance videos reveal how she was led away from the school premises by a mysterious girl dressed in red clothes. Following leads shown in the footage and with the help of Ya-ting's shaman boyfriend (Wu Nien-hsuan), Shu-fen arrives at a mysterious, reportedly haunted forest containing an abandoned amusement park and hospital.

Finding Ya-ting's cellphone but failing to find the girl herself, Shu-fen discovers Mother #4 in the shape of Yi-chun (Hsu Wei-ning): Disheveled, munching on maggots and weighed down by a stillborn, the woman is a holdover from the previous Tag-Along film, in which her hesitation about marriage and motherhood led to the death of her husband and their unborn child, as well as her own confinement in a paranormal realm.

Yi-chun's reappearance in the mortal world provides Shu-fen (and viewers left scratching their heads after the first film) with a new understanding of the red-attired girl. Madam Lin also chips in by confessing her role in the creation of this grotesque creature. All this information will eventually somehow lead to these adult mothers returning to the forest, battling with fiends that most probably reflect their own guilt and self-loathing for having neglected their maternal duties.

Given how this message defines the narrative, clichιs permeate and the characters are reduced to cyphers — an approach that forces the actors into one-note performances. Admittedly, Cheng Wei-hao and his crew — especially DP Chen Chi-wen and production designer Y.C. Kuo — have succeeded in generating an eerily gloomy ambience from which plenty of jump scares emerge.

What's scarier, however, are the archaic values the film touts, its starry-eyed view of motherhood overlooking the gruesome realities of unwanted pregnancies among the underaged, or those resulting from rape. The film's lack of sophistication in addressing these matters mirrors the crudeness of the CGI used in illustrating the supposedly epic fight against an evil army of squealing fiends resembling aborted fetuses. The Tag-Along 2 is old-school through and through — a return to a less enlightened age.

Production companies: CMC Entertainment, DaMou Entertainment, Sky Films Entertainment, Lots Home Entertainment, HIM International Music
Cast: Rainie Yang, Hsu Wei-ning, Francesca Kao, Lung Shao-hua, Wu Nien-hsuan
Director: Cheng Wei-hao
Screenwriters: Chien Shih-keng, Yang Wan-yu
Producers: Bob Wong, Jayde Lin, Liang Hung-chih, Chu Han-kwang, Lu Yen-ching, Willy Liao, Joe Chang, Tseng Han-hsien
Executive producers: Tseng Han-hsien
Director of photography: Chen Chi-wen
Production designer: Y.C. Kuo
Costume designer: Song Kuan-yi
Music: Rockid Lee
Editor: Shieh Meng-ju
Casting: Katia Yu
Sales: Entetaining Power
In Mandarin
108 minutes