Tarot (2024, dirs. Spenser Cohen and Anna Halberg)

by | May 3, 2024

Certificate: 15

Running Time: 92 mins

UK Distributor: Sony Pictures

UK Release Date: 2 May 2024

WHO’S IN TAROT?

Harriet Slater, Adain Bradley, Avantika Vandanapu, Wolfgang Novogratz, Humberly González, Larsen Thompson, Jacob Batalon, Olwen Fouéré

WHO’S BEHIND THE CAMERA?

Spenser Cohen and Anna Halberg (directors, writers), Scott Glassgold, Elysa Koplovitz Dutton and Leslie Morgenstein (producers), Joseph Bishara (composer), Elie Smolkin (cinematographer), Tom Elkins (editor)

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

A group of teenagers find themselves haunted after messing with spiritual tarot cards…

WHAT ARE MY THOUGHTS ON TAROT?

If you’ve ever wanted to know what a bog-standard, by-the-book and completely straightforward horror movie in the modern age looks like, here’s Tarot to satisfy that rather unusual request.

The film, which directors and writers Spenser Cohen and Anna Halberg very loosely adapt from Nicholas Adams’ 1992 novel Horrorscope, is a textbook definition of what a stereotypical horror movie looks and feels like nowadays. Everything about it, from its storytelling to the filmmaking to how the characters are perceived to even the scares themselves, is what you’d expect from a studio – in this case, Sony Pictures – that doesn’t care to make an effort beyond the proven horror movie formula, leaving it to indulge in every possible convention without any significant alterations.

It is, to a degree, quite fascinating how unambitious Tarot is, which is the only thing that’s interesting about this otherwise disposable dreck.

To its credit, the film wastes little time getting to its central concept, for it gets going well before the main title even pops up on the screen. During this extended opening, a small group of college friends have inexplicably rented a mansion to celebrate their friend Elise’s (Larsen Thompson) birthday, but soon they stumble upon a locked door to the cellar, with a sign saying to keep out. Naturally, they ignore the advice and break in, finding an old deck of tarot cards that group astrologer Haley (Harriet Slater) promptly uses on each of her friends, despite the known danger of using someone else’s cards.

From there, it’s supernatural mayhem that plays out exactly how you would expect. Each individual, personality-free member of the group – from Mean Girls’ (circa 2024) Avantika Vandanapu to Spider-Man breakout Jacob Batalon – suddenly finds themselves haunted and eventually killed by ghostly apparitions that look like the figures in the cards they were dealt, they visit a kooky psychic (Olwen Fouéré, because I guess Lin Shaye was unavailable) who dumps exposition onto them about the sinister nature of the tarot deck itself, and now they must find a way to stop the curse for good.

This is a movie that simply screams of studio interference from the very start. It appears that first-time filmmakers Cohen and Halberg were initially hired to legitimately adapt Horrorscope – which, by the way, revolves around a serial killer who targets his victims based on their horoscope readings – but then, somewhere during development, were blindsided by requests from Sony executives to turn it into a more typical teen-centric Final Destination-style slasher instead. It’s hard to not feel a little sorry for the duo, especially since they do show some signs of filmmaking style early on (before it settles into the same drab visual pattern that seems to plague most studio-led horrors), which suggests that they could work fine under their own terms. Unfortunately, the final product suggests that their creative vision was thrown out well before they had a chance to stand up for themselves, allowing the studio to take over and insert an infinite number of discrepancies into a film that sticks closely to a formula that only appeals to young teenagers and nobody else.

Not only that, but the studio is blatantly going out of its way to keep its horror film from actually being horrifying. It is shockingly blood-free, which is strange to say about a film where characters are crushed by ladders, run over by trains, and even sawed in half, yet any and all gore is kept to an absolute minimum, as in a couple of blood splatters to signify the violence happening off-screen. It’s obviously a ploy for Sony to maintain a PG-13 rating so that younger teens can see it without being too scared (because God forbid a horror movie actually be scary), but the scares that it has in place are mostly made up of – you guessed it – jump-scares set to loud musical stingers, within all-too darkly lit atmospheres where nobody has apparently paid the electricity bill in months, which even young teens are unlikely to be intimidated by. There’s nothing scary about it, with parts even venturing into unintentionally funny territory, and while there are some interesting designs for these supernatural figures, you hardly get a good look at them because it’s so dark all the time.

It’s surprisingly cheap, too, for the only people that we ever see in this apparently hotspot college environment are the main characters, with no other students or even lecturers roaming these halls or dorms, and even when we’re away from the campus, everywhere from the roads to the streets to even the subway stations are oddly underpopulated. This movie can’t have cost that much to make, but even still, it’s difficult to imagine that the budget couldn’t afford at least a few extras to keep it from feeling like the rapture has happened in this universe. Yet, they were able to pay for some iffy-looking effects that feel like they were rushed through the servers before being added to the final sequence.

For better or worse (mostly worse), Tarot is a Sony horror movie through and through, with the studio’s thumbprints all over it that erases any sense of creativity, passion and terror, which you don’t need a deck of cards to predict how that would all go over with anyone who sees it.

One out of five stars

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