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Review: Tar (2020)

The last time I was in LA, I saw some interesting things, but one I didn’t see was the La Brea Tar Pits. Maybe when you’ve seen one hot, sticky Californian pit you’ve seen them all, but ever since I was a kid reading about it in science class, I’ve been curious about La Brea and the prehistoric creatures that lived and died there. Director Aaron Wolf and co-writer Timothy Nuttall must have been interested in it as well. Their film Tar is about one of those creatures, one that didn’t have the decency to become extinct.

Barry Greenwood (Timothy Bottoms, The Shed, The Last Picture Show) and his son Zach (Aaron Wolf) are being forced out of business. Not by competition but by excavation for a subway expansion under their building. They along with New Agey receptionist Marigold (Tiffany Shepis, Pickaxe, Knifecorp), horny, fat, cliché Ben (Sandy Danto) and Zach’s girlfriend Rose (Emily Peachey, The Fault in Our Stars) are packing up the office and moving out.

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But that construction has had another, worse effect. It has woken the Matchi Manitu from its slumber. And that is even worse than their sleazy landlord Sebastian’s (Stuart Stone aka pro wrestler Stu Stone, Donnie Darko, Scarecrows) lawyers.

Just to bump up the list of potential victims there are two accountants, Diana Dunder (Nicole Alexandra Shipley, All Saints Eve, 12/12/12) and her assistant Carmenia (Dani Fernandez) in the next office. And one-time Oscar Nominee Graham Greene (Dances With Wolves, The Green Mile) turns up as Carl, a homeless man who knows all about the creature.

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Tar has an actual PG-13 rating, so don’t be expecting any serious monster mayhem. Or, despite how low her shirt is unbuttoned, Diana to pop out, (her initials aren’t DD for nothing). Tar has the feel of an old-fashioned monster movie like Slithis. And as somebody who remembers those films playing on TV every weekend, I didn’t mind that at all.

What I did mind was the way the story is told. Tar is related in flashbacks by one of the cast, which is a sure way to kill much of the film’s suspense. Plus, the constant interruptions make it nearly impossible to stay involved with the story. There are also flashbacks within those flashbacks to Barry and his father (Max Perlich, Cliffhanger, DinoCroc) that make me wonder why they didn’t move the company to the other side of Los Angeles.

The creature, when we finally see it, looks kind of like a gorilla dressed in oily woollen blankets. It has a burning touch and seems to be able to make tar out of thin air. In an interview, Wolf talked about his love of practical effects. And the creature is played by actors Simon Clark and Donovan Carmody. But the flying blood and tar is very obvious CGI.

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Tar had the potential to be a lot of fun, especially as it’s being released to drive-ins. That would be the perfect place to watch the cast try to escape the “Man from the Tar” in a dark office building. But there’s way too much talk, especially the father-son conflict between Barry and Zach. It was tedious and got on my nerves fast. It also tended to make Zach look like a jerk, and he’s supposed to be our hero. The result is a film that, despite a great cast, never rises above average at best.

1091 Pictures will release Tar to drive-ins & theatres on October 2nd. It will be available on Digital and On Demand on October 20th. You can check the film’s website and Facebook page for more information

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