Tarot Review – IGN

Exploring the Origins of Tarot in Horror Films

For any millennial horror fans who got super into astrology around 2013, Tarot may feel like a belated gift from a well-meaning parent who is nonetheless working from outdated knowledge of their child’s interests: “Hey, here are some of those crazy horoscopes you like! For Taurus season! Like on BuzzFeed?” The ancient set of tarot cards that bedevil the lead characters reside in an old closet, and that mustiness lingers long after they’ve left.

The source material for Tarot actually goes back even further than the heyday of social-media astrology: a 1992 novel with the much grabbier title Horrorscope, from pseudonymous YA author Nicholas Adams. In the movie version, a group of seven college friends uncover the cards during a weekend birthday celebration, and encourage Haley (Harriet Slater), who adopted tarot as a hobby as a method of coping with a terminally ill mother, to do readings for everyone. But after the weekend is over, the friends start dying under circumstances that seem suspiciously grisly – though it’s hard to tell, as the movie has a habit of cutting away to generic side-splatters of blood. These deaths connect, somewhat obtusely, back to the tarot cards the victims drew (and, confusingly, to the specific wording of Haley’s descriptions). The group quickly (although, at the same time, not that quickly) figures out that the cards are cursed, and attempts to break free of the curse before it kills them all. Because there are hardly any other characters in Tarot outside this group of seven, their deaths are a handy way of keeping time on when the movie will finally end.

An Absence of Moral Guidance in Tarot

Now, horror movies don’t have to provide moral guidance – and sometimes those that do descend into nasty scolding. But it’s worth pointing out here how little care and build-up is given to the unleashing of a vengeful, murderous spirit. Haley and her friends aren’t exactly recklessly tampering with forces beyond their understanding, venturing into the unknown, or succumbing to a momentary moral lapse; the worst thing they do is jimmy open a locked closet and look at some cards. It’s not too far removed from watching a horror movie where a crone stalks and kills a bunch of kids for not using coasters.

Indeed, there are times, particularly at the beginning and the very end, where it seems like writer-director team Spenser Cohen and Anna Halberg understand the absurdity of their premise, and feint toward making an actual horror comedy. It’s not a bad instinct. There’s a core of a funny, unpredictable idea in Tarot that goes almost entirely unexploited: What if the interpretative vagueness of so many astrological-style predictions were actually clues to a Final Destination-style demise, and therefore almost impossible (but also irresistible) to decode?

The Disappointment of Tarot’s Execution

Unfortunately, Tarot winds up taking itself just seriously enough to unleash an initially cool-looking but mostly standard-issue shapeshifter-ghost with the usual repertoire of clicks, skitters, howls, and sudden rushes. The not-funny-enough business falls to Paxton (Jacob Batalon from the MCU Spider-Man movies), while talented performers like Avantika (from the recent Mean Girls musical) go through the usual PG-13 horror-movie motions, with the inexplicable addition of multiple scenes where the characters bicker over whether or not to go back to the unhelpful cops. How does this keep happening more than halfway into the movie? It’s like eavesdropping on a tedious screenwriters’ debate.

It’s also like eavesdropping in that there’s not much to look at; Tarot is shot in such low-contrast darkness that the whole thing feels like it’s taking place in a drowsy wee-hours haze. At least Jeff Wadlow’s gimmicky horror movies like Truth or Dare or Fantasy Island have a certain baseline slickness and dopey entertainment value. Tarot is just a glum slog that occasionally tries to cheer itself up with late-’90s-style teen-movie glibness. (Most insultingly for a final few minutes that seem to almost brag about making no sense.) No need to read the cards: There’s no future here.