Tarot Review: A Scary Concept Cannot Overcome a Bad Story

Tarot
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Horror movies can grow from any place. That’s one of the most exciting aspects of the genre – any idea can become scary as hell in the right hands. With flicks like Ouija: Origin of Evil and Annabelle: Creation surprising audiences, it’s not unreasonable to find great hits from even thin concepts. Tarot, the latest Sony and Screen Gems horror film, seeks to replicate this success. Unfortunately, despite great creature designs, Tarot stumbles over its own feet at every opportunity. The result is not only frustrating but an absolute slog.

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Tarot

Tarot Plot

During a weekend in the Catskills, a group of young college students celebrate Elsie’s (Larsen Thompson) birthday. After the group runs out of alcohol, they stumble upon a deck of tarot cards. Haley (Harriet Slater) uses a combination of horoscopes and Tarot to read their futures. Paxton (Jacob Batalon), Paige (Avantika), Grant (Adain Bradley), Madelyn (Humberly González), Lucas (Wolfgang Novogratz), and Elsie have fun with the cards but pay little mind. However, when members of the group start dying, they must race to find the truth behind the mysterious force killing them one by one.

Tarot

Tarot Critique

There’s a space in horror for silly inexplicable stories to make for thrilling entertainment. Final Destination and I Know What You Did You Last Summer walk the line between comedy, melodrama, and horror. Tarot is built like these movies in many ways, especially with the large ensemble cast slowly meeting their doom. However, while those films played with the horror tropes they knowingly perpetuated, Tarot cannot be given that credit. It walks into trope after trope from the genre, and with the cast in tears for nearly the entire movie, any semblance of fun quickly dissipates.

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Early in Tarot, the characters walk into a borderline replica of the basement in Cabin in the Woods. The kids getting picked off one by one is far from unique to this story, but Tarot goes out of its way to tell you how each character will die in the movie’s first fifteen minutes. You cannot even say the film is predictable because it just tells you where everything is going. Despite the characters realizing they are in danger, they find ways to heighten the threat. Every bad faith takes about how horror movies are “dumb” seemingly comes to fruition over the course of Tarot.

Tarot

This does not even account for the poor filmmaking on display. The screenplay alone becomes an exposition barrage. We’re told this celebration comes after years of friendship. Yet throughout Tarot, characters reveal basic information about themselves for the first time to the group. At one point, we’re led to believe Haley and Grant are meant to marry each other. Despite their supposed relationship, Grant seems consistently surprised that Haley believes in horoscopes and occult items. To fill in some of the gaps, as if Tarot needed more exposition, we’re treated to exterior car shots with ADR piecing together jokes and aspects of the story.

Other characters openly discuss the fates from their readings, realizing they need to fight back to survive. That is until one character literally runs to their death – despite being explicitly told not to run. At each death, whispers come from the environment, reminding the audience exactly how it’s about to go for the victim on screen. Tarot shows zero faith in its audience to retain the basic setup. Combining these issues with an overabundance of jump scares and CGI special effects, Tarot loses all steam in the first half hour.

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This proves extremely disappointing, as the moments when practical effects are employed are excellent. The creature design stands out, especially in scenes that give the audience a full view of its monsters. Tarot still owes a royalty check to James Wan, but at least these moments feel tactile and scary. Sadly, the lows of some of the CGI characters make Tarot feel like it’s only meant to rip off better movies. Some of these images are excellent, but they feel hollow when you have no story or substance to put behind them.

Tarot

Conclusion

We wanted to like Tarot. Yet the story is so bad and the filmmaking so subpar that it actively grates against the audience. There are too many issues to fully appreciate the good. By the end, the movie runs on fumes to fulfill its final promises. Callbacks to lines that were bad the first time they were uttered only further sink the film. 2024 has been an excellent year for horror, but Tarot seems destined for burial.

2/10

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Written by Alan French

Articles Published: 42

Alan French began writing about film and television by covering the awards and Oscar beat in 2016. Since then, he has written hundreds of reviews on film and television. He attends film festivals regularly. He is a Rotten Tomato-approved critic and is on the committee for the Critics Association of Central Florida.