Netflixable? Taiwanese college kids tempt “The Bridge Curse”

He does what college kids do. He looks to Apple for help.

“Hey Siri,” he says (in Chinese with English subtitles). “Turn the screen light up to the brightest!”

But Siri can’t save him.

He calls out for flashfight function and frantically tries to text. But his iPhone can’t save him, either.

No, not when he’s forgotten that one thing, that one instruction he was given before climbing the stairs to “The Female Ghost Bridge.”

“Never turn your head on the stairs. The ghost might be right behind you!”

“The Bridge Curse” is a tepid ghost tale with some pretty good effects, a couple of decent twists in its meandering “Ways to Die on a College Campus” plot and a stylistic conceit that it abandons too quickly.

The conceit is thrown out after a nervy, almost-gripping opening. Five college kids at Tung Hu U. are live-streaming a “courage challenge” on “The Female Ghost Bridge,” a haunted lake-crossing span that a coed once threw herself from and drowned some while back. In cell-phone tight compositions, the kids tease, prank and goad one another as they act out and video this adventure.

But darned if that kid doesn’t forget the “Don’t turn around” rule. He counts the steps up, pranks his pals, and then forgets that rule, takes that 14th step on a 13-step bridge, and it’s “pick’em off, one-by-one” time — starting with him.

The kids — some of them makeup students, one an IT major and a couple from mass communications department, are tight enough that they’ve dated each other, silly enough that they keep separating in that “You wait here” way that horror movie characters do.

The screenplay sets up rules, ways this calamity plays out, and then forgets those rules. The original victim, the “ghost” who haunts this bridge, drowned. The victims are supposed to drown — in a mop bucket, in the film’s most memorable murder. But that’s abandoned.

There’s also this TV reporter (Vera Yen) and her camera guy (JC Lin) trying to find out what happened, if there’s been a coverup of other times that it happened, and just what those flickering images and that white shadow might be on the CCTV or streamed videos posted online.

An elevator whose digital numbers go wonky as it never seems to take those riding it to the correct floor, a dash down a “Vertigo” inspired never-ending stairwell, attacks by a ghost who — like most ghosts in Asian horror — has that “Ring” hairstyle, characters yanked out of the frame, dragged across the floor or lifted into the air — standard issue visual tropes of modern movie ghost stories.

The concept is solid, and the characters — hard to identify by name as the subtitled names don’t jibe with the closing credits names — generally give us believable reactions to a supernatural threat.

That would be shrieking, pants-wetting hysteria, even the girls.

But “The Bridge Curse” never jells, never comes together and rarely delivers. The whole point in putting “rules” in your screenplay is so that the audience can see the threats before the characters do, and the characters can try to reason their way out of their predicament.

Set up rules that you promptly abandon, and just following your random, rambling and generally-unidentified coeds becomes a chore. You don’t let us identify with them, step into their shoes and fear for their safety.

For direector Lester Hsi, “The Bridge Curse” becomes a bridge that fails.

MPAA Rating: TV-MA, violence

Cast: JC Lin, Vera Yen, Ning Chang

Credits: Directed by Lester Hsi, script by Keng-Ming (Ken) Chang and Ps-Hsiang (Alain) Hao.

Running time: 1:27

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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