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Tarot Film Review: Jump Scare Junction

A woman covers her mouth with her hand in disbelief in the film Tarot

Though Tarot has some visually notable entities, it’s an overly formulaic horror film, showing all its cards far too early in the game.

Directors: Spenser Cohen & Anna Halberg
Genre: Horror
Run Time: 92′
U.S. & U.K. Release: May 3, 2024
Where to watch: globally in theaters

On paper, Anna Halberg and Spenser Cohen’s feature-length directorial debut, Tarot, has a somewhat alluring premise for a horror film. Based on Nicholas Adams’ 1992 novel “Horrorscope,” the story follows a group of teenagers who embark on a weekend getaway to an extravagant mansion to celebrate Elise’s (Larsen Thompson) birthday.

When their beer supply runs out, the seven friends head to the house’s spooky basement in hopes of finding an alcohol stash. Instead, they discover a deck of mysterious hand-painted tarot cards, and Haley (Harriet Slater, of Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny)—who used to be well-versed in tarot—gives each of her friends a reading. However, before the festivities begin, she admits to the rest of the group that using someone else’s card pack is strongly discouraged. But in true teen horror film fashion, the group insists on bending the rules and playing with fire. Besides, what’s the worst that could happen?

It doesn’t take long to decipher Tarot’s setup, the direction of the narrative, and the film’s blatant formulaic structure, which leaves little to the imagination. When the tarot deck is discovered and each member of the friend group receives their tarot reading—all of which happens within the first thirty minutes of the film—viewers know the fate of each character and the killing order almost immediately. As a result, the story leaves no room for suspense or tension to be built upon and relies heavily on jump scares to compensate.

However, even with this approach, the film still falls short. It leans far too much on an excessive number of cheap thrills that viewers can see coming from a mile away due to specific scene arrangements—think lingering shots in dark hallways as you wait for a freakish being to leap into the frame—it’s all so clichéd and underwhelming without a hint of originality.

In addition, Tarot doesn’t take time to develop its characters, which prevents the audience from becoming emotionally invested in each of their destinies. Grant (Adain Bradley, of Wrong Turn) and Haley’s romantic past is referenced briefly, making viewers slightly more concerned about their survival. With that said, they’re comparable to other teen couples we’ve seen in hundreds of other horror features. We also learn very little about each person within the friend group, and by the time they meet their untimely demise, you probably won’t even remember their name.

A woman's head emerges from a trapdoor, her face in disbelief as she looks at the lit candles all around her, with a tarot card in front of her
Larsen Thompson is “Elise” in Screen Gems’ TAROT (© 2024 CTMG, Inc. All Rights Reserved.)

Most of the characters in Tarot have little common sense and make terrible choices, even when they’re fully aware that their lives are in danger. One character is warned about the dangers of confined spaces but willingly enters an elevator. Another member of the friend group follows a voice down into the basement without identifying the person at the bottom of the stairs who is speaking to her. It’s almost as if Tarot purchased a book based on horror film tropes and attempted to check every box.

One thing that viewers can appreciate is the film’s use of practical effects, producing some well-executed horror sequences and visually striking characters. Though not particularly frightening, the various tarot characters that appear whenever a kill takes place are portrayed by actual actors as opposed to CGI. This brings each villain to life and adds more realism to the horror at play. However, Tarot remains in tame territory, and its PG-13 rating prevents the film from embracing gore without limitations. Most character deaths take place offscreen, which feels like a missed opportunity to produce creative kills and win back the audience’s attention, especially with an overly conspicuous reveal of the film’s direction early in the narrative.

Tarot isn’t the worst horror film I’ve seen so far this year, but it isn’t very memorable either. Comparable to other run-of-the-mill PG-13 genre films such as Night Swim and Imaginary, Halberg and Cohen’s supernatural screenplay brings nothing new or authentic to the genre and is just another generic fright flick that shows its hand way too early on.

Tarot is now available to watch globally in theaters. Read our review of Skeletons in the Closet.

Tarot: Trailer (Sony Pictures Entertainment)
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