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MOVIE REVIEW: Relentless with its jump scares, ‘Tarot’ is more exhausting than scary

Dreadful friends meet deadly destinies in "Tarot," a horror film obsessed with jump scares.

Tarot’ is the kind of old-school horror that foregoes character development, or even plot, and is only interested in setting up the frightening parts and the jump scares. It’s the kind of film where the characters have no real lives outside of this movie. They have no past except for those that are needed for this particular event and, sometimes, it only comes up when it’s needed to keep the story moving. Because the film is all about the shock and surprise factor, it is ridiculously fast-paced and relentless in its suspense that watching the whole 92-minute run time can be exhausting.

The film, directed and written by Spencer Cohen and Anna Halberg is about a group of friends who rent out an old mansion in the Catskills, in the middle of nowhere, to celebrate a birthday. When they run out of beer, they decide to search the house to see if it has any liquor left. One member finds a door with a “Keep Out” sign and decides to break it open to reveal a staircase leading down to the basement where old antiques re kept. They find a box with hand painted tarot cards and decide to have one of their friends who knows how to use it give them all a reading.

Of course, the tarot reader, Haley, begins by saying “It is bad luck to use someone else’s cards” but they push her anyway. The readings are descriptive and connected with each character’s astrology sign. It’s a long segment that can be very derivative and pedantic and seems like a callout to the trend of the younger set very steeped into the esoteric. I’m into astrology and tarot myself, at some point in my life, but even I found it annoying.

From the get-go, I already didn’t like these people. Sure, their friendship was quickly established – and what’s great is that they really felt like friends with some dynamic that was easily established – but the way by which they searched the house for liquor and the fact that they were all okay with breaking a locked down of the rented mansion and touched antiques to quell their boredom already told me that I was going to side with the monster in this movie.

Of course, the tarot cards are cursed and Haley’s readings for each of her friends start to come true. The figures in the tarot come to life and start to kill them one by one. The film actually reminds me of the classic horror franchise ‘Final Destination.’ The deaths have already been laid out in the tarot reading segment in the first act and all we have to do is watch them unfold.


Outside of the curse coming to get them, there’s nothing else really in this film for us to latch on to. They say they are students, but we never see them study or go to school. We never see them really interact with anybody (except two detectives who question them after the first death) so there’s no feeling that this is an actual place or people that can help us endear these characters to us.

Sure, Haley and Grant, her former boyfriend who she just broke up with before the film starts, has some tension but with the film focusing so much on the killing of people one by one, it hardly takes any time to develop these feelings or the tension.

The imagery is so dark and editing is so quick and fast-paced, it’s really meant to disorient you and to raise up the dread level and then surprise you with a jump scare. The whole film feels like it’s 80% that and 20% of the characters interacting with each other. Sure, there’s a moment where they talk about the history of the tarot cards but it’s all just lip service.

The film tries to make a statement about how we can sometimes leave our fates into the hands of external forces – faith, destiny, chance, or whatever – and that it tries to embolden us to fight it and make our own way. But it really doesn’t handle that message well. What happened to them, after all, was their fault for touching things they should not have and so it’s a hard lesson to sell when there’s no sympathy coming from my side. If you’re a fan of brainless horror with relentless jump scares, then this is your kind of movie.

My Rating:

Tarot is now showing. Check screening times and buy tickets here.

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