Tarot Poster

Tarot (2024) Review

Anyone old enough to remember dime novels from the 1990s might recognize those young adult horror novellas back then. One such novel was a little paperback teen slasher story named Horrorscope, witten by Nicholas Adams (actually the pen name for British novelist John Peel), about an anonymous killer of college students whose modus operandi was based on their zodiac signs. 

The people at Alloy Entertainment, now a Warner subsidiary but then Daniel Weiss Associates who had the book published by HarperCollins, dusted it off and thought it might be a viable I.P. to make a movie over. So they managed to get Sony’s subsidiary Screen Gems attached and hired the duo Spenser Cohen and Anna Halberg (Moonfall, Extinction (2018), Expend4bles) for writing and directing duties. And by replacing the slasher killer in the source material with a cursed Tarot deck, we now got this movie.

It opens with an introductory montage of our lead ensemble of young adults with their usual shenanigans involving alcoholic beverages in a mansion in the Catskills, which they rented to celebrate the birthday of one of them. This scene comes barraged so rapidly and quick-cut with fast camera swooshes that none of the characters lands anyway, so I will spare you the full listing for the sake of readability.

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Not all is fine and dandy in our merry band of friends, though. See, one couple amongst them, Haley (Harriet Slater, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, Faunutland and the Lost Magic) and Grant (Adain Bradley, Wrong Turn (2021), Butter’s Final Meal), just recently broke up which is a downer. So, to restore jubilation into the depths of inebriation, the group starts sniffing and poking around in the mansion’s vast expanses and sure enough, they find themselves an ancient hand-painted and ghastly imaged Tarot deck.

Haley has a little personal history of dabbling in the occult and divinatory, so the group does their group thing: exerting pressure on her to make her read their future from the cards. Hesitantly, she gives in, giving them their readings and thereby unwillingly unleashing the curse the cards carry with them, put on them way back when by an astronomer whose daughter was executed by a Hungarian king whom she had told undesirable fortunes to.

From here on out, the movie settles into a Final Destination meets Thir13een Ghosts type of movie, with the various vengeful card-demons picking off our characters one by one as the remaining survivors frantically try to figure out how to un-curse the cards and escape their doomed fates. This search involves tracking down Alma (Olwen Fouéré, The Northman, Mandy), a reclusive witch-in-the-forest type woman who’s had her own dealings with this particular card deck in the past.

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This movie is firmly aimed and marketed at the young adult marketplace and to its credit, it embraces this wholeheartedly. Every trick in the horror movie manual is thrown in and as a result, the movie looks and feels like a horror trope highlight-reel. Never slowing down to make you stop and think what the movie is actually telling in terms of plot or narrative, the movie never gets boring. 

Production design is actually pretty well done, too, and the CGI-enhanced demons look surprisingly convincing. As they should be, because being a PG-13 movie in its theatrical rendition, all kills happen off-screen, so the money shots have to come from the monsters themselves as they appear, aided by the movie’s sound design. No on-screen carnage to be found here.

The ensemble cast delivers a passable performance, even though their characters fail to stick for lack of any background or personality. In terms of production, the movie is okay. It’s way too dark in places to follow or even discern what’s happening where, though, particularly during the kill-buildup scenes. Given the overall visual production quality, I’m quite sure this is not a glitch and I suspect it has something to do with avoiding re-edits for the MPAA to meet rating constraints.

But being a horror movie, it leaves even less visual meat on its bones than what little it might otherwise still have had within its limited PG-13 visual wiggle room, had they pushed the envelope a little further. It hurts the movie for me but to be fair, I’m not exactly the target audience here either – adult is widely still up for debate but young, definitely and unanimously passed.

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But even with that in mind, and knowing full well what kind of movie I was going to be in for, I had hoped for a more imaginative and creatively less lazy approach than the conveyor belt attitude the filmmakers chose to take here. The infamous cards have a long and interesting history, going all the way back to the Italian late Middle Ages, but to my knowledge, their horror movie career really never went much beyond that of a plot device. 

Even Ouija boards with their significantly less storied history have films centred around them (with Mike Flanagan’s Ouija: Origin of Evil actually being quite a good one). One would think there’s a wealth of horror movies yet to be made here, far more interesting than just shoehorning a Tarot gimmick into a slasher dime novel from the 1990s that the producers presumably still had copyrights on, lying around somewhere in the archives.

Moreover, one would also think that, even with that method of least resistance to get the film made, and with the rating constraints the producers presumably felt necessary to impose on the movie for their return on investment prospects, they would at least get their writing straight. But also here, even within the film’s premise that I will charitably label as ‘straightforward’, the makers drop the ball and a couple of rewrites would have been in order.

Just one example, a Tarot deck totals 78 cards, out of which 22 Major Arcana, but with every reading our heroine Haley inevitably draws and spreads the usual, most dramatic ones we know from the movies, from Major Arcana. And occasionally, the most ominous Minor Arcana card, Ten of Swords, portrayed here as Six of Swords, makes an appearance. What are the odds, eh? 

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Haley, for whom the movie makes it a point to let her be so knowledgeable with all of this, doesn’t blink though, while still holding an almost-full stack after completing a card spread. Had the writers put the same amount of effort in their script as the production designers did in their meticulously hand-painted cards – and they really are a sight to behold – we’d have had a way better movie than this.

In conclusion, while not a total disaster, Tarot is a badly flawed movie. It’s Final Destination sans the big spectacle and Thir13een Ghosts sans the oomph, barely keeping itself afloat by its aesthetics and pace. And what’s frustrating is, they could have avoided these objections while still working with what they had, had the makers on duty put in more TLC in their writing and a bit more balls in their money shots. 

Not an outright bad movie but far from a good one either, it’s best given a once-over as an intermittent companion piece with the movies I associated it with, and with a group of friends and a drinking game each time the Death card rolls around. Bring enough beer and booze, and arrange stay-over to sleep it off before facing the wife again.

Tarot is available in theatres and on Digital Platforms via Sony Pictures. You can check the film’s website for more information.

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