Tarot review – disappointment is in the cards with silly supernatural horror

Estimated read time 5 min read

As many of us impatiently wait for the sixth Final Destination film, slated for release next year over a decade since the fifth, here comes yet another limp attempt to recreate that specific, sadistic form of magic. Some curse, some teens, some shock deaths, a formula that’s been trotted out in so-what films like Wish Upon, Countdown and Truth or Dare, shrugs where shocks should be, franchise starters ending after the first round.

Which brings us to Tarot, a film wisely kept from critics until the very last second and one that audiences would be smart to keep themselves from too. It’s not quite as bad as these things can often be but flashes of competence are not enough to distract from a sense of crushing pointlessness, more watery slop served up lukewarm for undemanding Friday night horror fans, who really ought to be demanding so much more.

Like the other Final Destination pretenders, Tarot is designed for a tamer teen crowd, a hard R replaced by a soft PG-13 but like those others, its makers are never quite sure how to master the right tone required. It’s too nasty at times, too silly or too self-serious at others, too idiotic throughout, uneasily combining flashes of gore with splashes of comedy, all peppered with laughably unconvincing cry-on-cue moments of so-sad grief. Loosely based on the 90s YA schlocker Horrorscope but written with such drunk plotting that it could have been based on a Sony exec pointing at a pack of tarot cards, it tells the story of a group of college friends renting out a shadowy mansion who happen upon a padlocked room with a sign saying PRIVATE: KEEP OUT.

Because they’re all stupid, they break in and because they’re all really stupid, they decide to crack open a creepy wooden box of hand-painted tarot cards, insisting the sensible final girl Haley (the British actor Harriet Slater, good enough) reads for them all. She’s got an interest in both tarot and astrology but is nursing a broken heart from both a recent breakup and the death of her mother (!) and puts her carefully textured backstory to the side to give each of her too-large group of friends some maddeningly detailed predictions. Each is then killed off in adjacent circumstances, somehow also tied to their astrological signs (“He’s an earth sign and was found in the dirt!”).

It’s a horror film for the kind of person who’d tell a stranger they’re “such a Libra” after a five-second conversation and maybe those who do invest an awful lot in the meanings behind such waffle would find something scarier here. But there’s not much else for the rest of us, an unscary cycle of poorly executed jump scares, suspense-free death sequences and truly inane plotting. The writer-directors Spenser Cohen and Anna Halberg really have no idea how to fill the gaps between deaths and even at 92 minutes, we’re left with something that feels so much longer.

We’re lumbered with some horrendously dull college student dialogue about how everything is, like, so insane, with Spider-Man’s usually charming Jacob Batalon forced into extremely annoying comedy relief. The characters make dumber than usual decisions and embark on a quest to find someone who might know what’s really going on that literally begins with them Googling the words “tarot” and “death” together. The Irish stage actor Olwen Fouéré takes on the Tony Todd in Final Destination role as someone who has battled this dark force before, something she also did in 2022’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre retcon sequel. As Mrs Exposition, she plays thankless gap-filler which does at least allow for a charmingly batty flashback to 18th-century Hungary, one of the few times we can tell this was based on an actual book.

While the deaths do remind one of the Final Destination movies (“you can’t cheat death” is inelegantly transformed into “you can’t change fate”) they also bring to mind Hellraiser, a wall being removed between one world and the other with a collection of monsters doing the dirty work for a central villain. There are touches of good design – some creepy metallic fingers pushing down a ladder on to unlucky first girlie – but not a lot sticks. Both of those franchises revelled in the giddy jolt of gore and how inventively it can be used but here it’s all sanitised for the sleepover crowd and without, say, smart plot reveals or suspense or characters we root for, we’re left with very little else.

It’s been a scary year so far for the horror genre, a traditionally reliable stream of income for Hollywood, with a string of worrying under-performers, from Imaginary to Immaculate to The First Omen to Abigail. It doesn’t take a reading to predict that Tarot isn’t going to change things.

  • Tarot is out now in US and UK cinemas

Source: theguardian.com

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