Tarot (2024) Review

Tarot (2024)
Director: Spenser Cohen, Anna Halberg
Screenwriters: Spenser Cohen, Anna Halberg
Starring: Harriet Slater, Adain Bradley, Avantika, Wolfgang Novogratz, Jacob Batalon, Humberly González, Larsen Thompson, Olwen Fouéré

Thirteen Ghosts, the 2001 remake of William Castle’s 1960 film, had something going for it: let’s trap people in a big house with lots of inventive evil spirits, with lots of fun costumes and makeup and prosthetics, and then make the entire house an occult version of the eponymous Cube from the 1997 Vincenzo Natali film. It had flair and intrigue, and people have been clamouring for expansions upon the lore of the ghosts ever since it was released.

Despite also having lots of ghosts summoned to track down and kill people one by one, nobody will be asking for more of Tarot.

Based on Nicholas Adams’ 1990s horror novel “Horrorscope”, this film thought it fit to take a healthy supply of moronic teenagers in a massive mansion out in the middle of nowhere (able to be rented, apparently; something you can do at the drop of a hat from your phone to arrive within the next hour if you’re rich enough, with nobody living there to stock up the fridge in the meantime, or even a groundskeeper to clean out the trash), have them explore a creepy basement, pick up a creepy deck of Tarot cards Cabin in the Woods style, and read their fortunes via a mix of Tarot and astrology. Then, one by one, they get hunted down by the figure in the central card in the manner of their fortunes, giving each monster a grand total of five shots on screen if they’re very lucky, and it’s up to the survivors to try and stop the curses from taking them, too.

We shouldn’t normally attack a film like this for being a walking box of cliches, but we will, because awful films need to be called out. Never mind that we’ve already had a mixed bag of game-themed supernatural horror films over the past ten years, with Ouija showing how not to do it, and Talk To Me showing how it should be done. Never mind that it takes the route that Richard Laymon took in his novel “Darkness, Tell Us”, by having the teens summon up a spirit which gives them something good financially before pulling the rug out from under them later (Laymon himself, of course, drawing upon Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”; ‘… oftentimes, to win us to our harm,/The instruments of darkness tell us truths,/Win us with honest trifles, to betray’s/In deepest consequence.’) Never mind that the film is an amalgamation of M.R. James’s three most famous ghost stories, with an object bringing up a supernatural calling (most famously in ‘Oh, Whistle, And I’ll Come to You, My Lad’), putting a spell back onto the caster from “Casting the Runes”, and calling a character Paxton (Jacob Batalon of Spider-Man: Homecoming) after the character from “A Warning to the Curious”.

What would be fun is if the film took all of these tropes and ideas and did something inventive with them. Or at least illustrated evidence of them being directed well. Or, fulfilled the simple task of involving actual horror. Instead, Tarot goes for the cheapest, most badly-directed scenes imaginable, with awful dialogue (Batalon’s character giving the comic relief is the only thing that saves his lines from being outright painful), with hardly any time for our host spirits to actually show themselves off, and with a backstory a high school student could think of in half a second for an in-class writing exercise. Then we kill half of them off-screen. It’s all as PG13 as we can get.

Half of the scares are badly lit, plot holes gape larger than the demonic portals the ghosts came through, none of the characters are interesting, and cinema once again wastes the potential of Olwen Fouéré, who is a decent actress when she isn’t getting offed after ten minutes in Netflix’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre. All of this is wrapped up in a 90 minute runtime, which shows in big neon lights how quickly and cheaply these things are being churned out for no reason at all other than because they’ll make the money back at the box office because ‘it’s good for cheap teen thrills’, even when there aren’t any cheap teen thrills. There’s certainly no attempt at artistic creativity here. Even the jump-scares are uncreative, and when that’s happening in a cheap horror film, things have gone very badly wrong.

The only time Tarot is bearable is when it is laughing at itself, led by Batalon’s comedic timing honed on the Marvel films. This would have been one thousand times better if it went down a blackly-comedic, Scream-esque route, taking on the paranormal run started by Insidious, The Conjuring, and others of the past 15 years. But no. That wasn’t in Tarot’s cards. That might have given it some good fortune.

Score: 4/24

Rating: 0.5 out of 5.

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