The Movie Waffler New Release Review - TAROT | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - TAROT

Tarot review
Teenage friends unleash evil by conducting a tarot reading with a cursed deck.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Spenser Cohen, Anna Halberg

Starring: Harriet Slater, Adain Bradley, Avantika, Jacob Batalon, Olwen Fouéré

Tarot poster

Adapted from Nicholas Adams' 1992 novel 'Horrorscope' by writer/directors Spenser Cohen and Anna Halberg, Tarot is gifted with what should be a winning formula. Not only does it see a bunch of attractive young stars killed off in the manner of horoscopes predicted through the use of the titular cards, but it also has a group of evil entities inspired by the cards. And yet the film squanders every opportunity it's presented with to create a fun and scary Friday night at the movies.

Haley (Harriet Slater) and her diverse but generic group of friends spend a weekend at a rental house in the countryside outside Boston, where they attend college together. While searching for any booze that might be stashed away, they come across a deck of tarot cards. Wouldn't you know it, Haley just happens to be something of a tarot buff. Despite her insistence that it's bad luck to use a stranger's deck, Haley gives in to her friends' pressure and uses the cards to read their horoscopes. They each receive a bland premonition coupled with a specific card: The High Priestess, The Hermit, The Hanged Man, The Magician, The Fool, The Devil and Death. It's all fun and games until the members of the group return to college (where they appear to be the only students; what is this, The Holdovers?) and start dying in a manner related to their horoscopes. Can they figure out a way to survive, or does fate have it in for them?

Tarot review

Tarot may be based on a book from the early '90s but its cinematic influences are very much of the early 20th century, specifically Final Destination. The plot is essentially a rehash of the driving force of that series, with a bunch of youngsters marked for death, but it misunderstands what makes those films so effective. For a start the kills here have none of the elaborate Rube Goldberg constructions that cause viewers to dig their nails into their armrests in anticipation of that final moment when death strikes. Nor do they have the quotidian aspect that makes you acutely aware of your everyday surroundings when you walk out of the cinema after a Final Destination movie. Unlike Final Destination, where death is a metaphysical concept, here the victims are menaced by the physical embodiments of the Tarot cards; if you got the Fool card, you'll be killed by The Fool and so on. So rather than someone being killed by what could be read as bad luck, we see the demons manipulate their surrounds. Having the Tarot cards come to life could have been fun if rendered in the fashion of the Puppet Master movies, with each one having a distinct look and personality, but here they're just a generic bunch of post J-horror spooks with lank hair, barely glimpsed for the most part as they stick to the shadows.

Irish horror staple Olwen Fouéré pops up as a blend of Tony Todd and Ali Larter's Final Destination characters. She exists to explain the backstory, which gives us a flashback to 18th century Hungary, while spelling out just how screwed the protagonists are, ala Todd. She's also a survivor of the cards herself, ala Larter. But she's really there for the sole reason of having exposition delivered by an experienced actress with the sort of presence absent from the bland young cast.

Tarot review

Verbal exposition is a constant fallback for this lazily constructed film that rarely gives us anything visual of note. The setup is rendered in the worst way possible, forcing the audience to endure no less than seven characters having their horoscopes read. As it's impossible to expect the audience to remember the details of each premonition, the film has to resort to blunt reminders of each individual horoscope when it comes time for a character to meet their demise. And just in case that goes over our heads, Haley is on hand to explain how each death ties in to a horoscope.

It doesn't help that the characters are as paper thin as the titular cards. 20 years ago bad horror movies would resort to stereotypes to define their characters: the mousy final girl, the jock, the slut, the nerd etc. Now that's been replaced by diversity, but the characters are no more well drawn. The seven leads of Tarot are distinguishable solely by either their race or their sexual preference: the straight white girl, the white lesbian, the black guy, the East-Asian lad, the Latina, the white guy and the South Asian girl (no prizes for guessing which one is the nerd here). While the movie might pride itself on its inclusive casting, it's really just another Hollywood movie giving in to conservative fears. A couple of lines of dialogue could be removed and the lesbian character would be made palatable for less enlightened territories. While there's an inter-racial relationship between Haley and Grant (Adain Bradley), they've conveniently split up at the point where the movie starts. This means the film can claim to be progressive while avoiding showing a black guy snogging a white girl, which continues to be a taboo in Hollywood.

Tarot review

Tarot cards have featured in scores of horror movies, so it's remarkable that it's taken until 2024 to find them so explicitly embedded in a horror movie's premise. That just makes it all the more of a shame that the film can't figure out how to capitalise on the potential of the cards it's been dealt. Rather than leaning into its own concept, tarot instead rehashes ideas from other movies (the clever car sensor sequence from Bird Box is blatantly stolen here). When it comes to mining scares from its own premise, Tarot isn't playing with a full deck.

Tarot is in UK/ROI cinemas from May 3rd.

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