Film reviews and more since 2009

Tarot (2024) review

Dir. Spenser Cohen and Anna Halberg

By: Steve Pulaski

Rating: ★

Ordinarily, horror movies as loathsome as Tarot are released in the month of January. The bleak, bitterly cold mid-section of winter provides an ideal time for Hollywood to dump off its lesser works in hopes we forget their existence by the time the snow melts. For all involved, Tarot should be the equivalent to that job one has for a momentary amount of time. Maybe you got a friend out of it, but nobody should include it on their resume.

This insufferably lousy, derivative work of woo-woo feels like a cut-and-paste of every supernatural, PG-13 horror film. A little Ouija here, some Truth or Dare there. What sticks out from the very beginning is an utterly appalling lack of ambition from the writing/directing team of Spenser Cohen and Anna Halberg. I’ll give you an analogy. The NFL Draft was last week. Imagine your team drafted a quarterback and his biggest points of reference and inspiration were Jamarcus Russell and Akili Smith.

Tarot opens with a group of instantly forgettable college students, the most recognizable being Jacob Batalon from Spider-Man: No Way Home. We drop in on him and the others — played by Harriet Slater, Humberly González, Larsen Thompson, Avantika, Wolfgang Novogratz, and Adain Bradley — in the middle of a weekend getaway in the Catskills. The stunning realization that they’re out of booze prompts them to search the rental house for more, but instead leads them to a box of hand-illustrated tarot cards.

Haley (Slater) is the only one who is well-versed in tarot, so she decides to do readings for each of her friends, including herself. In the following days, one-by-one, the friend group gets picked off in ways that follow their readings, right down to the figure on the “central card,” who shows up to murder them after a lot of frivolous taunting. Of course, with just a few clicks on the internet, some of the survivors are able to track down a creepy old lady (Olwen Fouéré), whose sole purpose in life is to live in a ramshackle dwelling lined with newspaper clippings and wait for ne’er-do-well collegians to arrive on her doorstep begging for answers.

What could be a tolerable Final Destination clone under the best of circumstances devolves into a visually muddy chiller that harbors all the impact of a county fair haunted house. For jump-scares, we have one overly loud screech effect that sounds every time one of the Tarot-card figures appears. For characters, we have a lackluster bunch of nobodies. It’s less the fault of the actors themselves, and more the fault of a script that saddles them with sometimes howlingly bad dialog.

The most scathed performer is Batalon, who plays another version of his loquacious, nerdy archetype in Spider-Man, only without the comedic timing and charisma. Batalon’s Paxton is the most irritating character in any movie I’ve seen this year; maybe even including last year, too. Within minutes of the opening scene, he hogs all the oxygen and dialog, and succeeds only in being a grating presence. Oddly enough, he comes in contact with one of the film’s better villains in “The Fool,” a jester-like cretin who contorts his body in the silliest of ways.

Conversely, the film squanders one of its best sequences by showing too little due to being too dark. In essence, a woman is trapped inside a magician’s saw-box, with a costumed Abraham Lincoln poised to cut her in half in front of a congregation of individuals in old-timey Purge-esque masks. This would’ve been a wonderfully creepy scene. If only you could see what’s happening.

In the last decade, horror has been elevated significantly beyond any other genre. If you’re truly craving a scary movie this weekend, sign up for a free trial of Shudder and treat yourself to Late Night with the Devil, a phenomenal concept-driven work of the genre. If you want something more suspenseful, On the Line on Netflix is a low-key potboiler that gets you thinking. Wish Upon is the superior version of Tarot, and it’s streaming free on Tubi. With all these options, if you choose to buy tickets to Tarot, you should also buy a mirror afterwards and ask yourself some serious questions.

NOTE: Tarot is now playing exclusively in theaters.

Starring: Harriet Slater, Humberly González, Larsen Thompson, Avantika, Wolfgang Novogratz, Adain Bradley, and Jacob Batalon. Directed by: Spenser Cohen and Anna Halberg.

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About Steve Pulaski

Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!

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