The Cards Are Stacked Against Tarot

Harriet Slater in 'Tarot' (2024), Image Courtesy of Sony Pictures Releasing

What makes Horror such a fun genre is that you can take just about anything and turn it into things of nightmares. When people have asked why I am scared of birds, I can reference them back to Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. We are even seeing children’s stories like Winnie the Pooh get the horror treatment. Horror is a genre that you can let your imagination run wild.

There is a rich history and lore surrounding the cards and the practice of terror, it could make for a great horror movie. The practice of Tarot has been around for centuries. The earliest references to tarot go back to the 1440s and 1450s. Over the years the form of fortune telling has been associated with witchcraft and being the work of the devil, howeverpost-pandemic, Tarot has become more popular. Writer and director duo Anna Halberg, and Spenser Cohen loosely adapted a 1992 YA horror novel written by Nicholas Adams and brings the horrors of Tarot to life. 

Tarot begins with a group of friends who are celebrating a birthday at an old mansion in the Catskills. After drinking all of the alcohol they brought, they run through the house searching for more that might be hiddenThey find a door that is securely locked with a “keep out” sign placed in the center. Instead of respecting the sign, they insist on breaking the door down and exploring.

There they find old, dust-filled, astrology relics that the owner of the home collects. Hayley (Harriet Slater) is shown a deck of tarot cards and the birthday girl, Elise (Larsen Thompsoninsists on her providing horoscope readings to her and the rest of the group. Hayley warns her friends that you should never use another fortune teller’s cards especially if you do not know the origin of the deckThis doesn’t phase the rest of the group and they do the readings anyway. 

Fate sends the group back to school in Boston. Once back, they soon start to realize that they will all meet their fate as predicted by the cards. It is up to Hayley, her ex-boyfriend Grant (Adain Bradley), Elise’s girlfriend Paige (Avantika Vandanapu), and goofy stoner Paxton (Jacob Batal) to stop fate.

Harriet Slater in 'Tarot' (2024), Image Courtesy of Sony Pictures Releasing
Jacob Batalon in ‘Tarot’ (2024), Image Courtesy of Sony Pictures Releasing

What could have been a creative concept for a horror film falls completely flat. One of Tarot’s biggest downfalls is that it tries to do too much in a short amount of time. A lot of the story is not fleshed out and it becomes convoluted in which direction it wants to take. Hayley mentions that it is “fate” controlling the outcome of the predictions and there has to be a way to stop it. It is introduced in a similar way that Final Destination introduces “death”. An ominous looming invisible figure that is lurking behind every corner. It turns out that the old, hand-painted deck full of overtly creepy artwork was cursed by an 18th-century astrologist who just goes by “The Astrologer”. The lore of the owner of the cards is discovered however not completely fleshed out to have any impact on its audience. When introduced, it then turns into a monster horror where the art of the cards comes to life. Tarot could have had the potential to work well with a 90-minute runtime if it stayed on course with one idea over the other. Instead of introducing a few different ideas and tropes, it could have benefited from focusing on one of the ideas it presented to its audience. 

Most of the film is hard to watch due to most of it taking place in the dark. Most scenes are poorly lit for no real reason. Tarot uses poorly lit scenes, loud noises, and house creaks to amplify the scares. However, the real scares of the film leave nothing to jump for. 

The cast does it best with the material that was provided for them. There is not a lot of personality to any of the characters outside of Batal’s character of Paxton, who we see as a goofy stoner type. Even our presumed lead, Hayley played by Slater is known as the astrology and tarot expert but nothing further than that. Vandanapu, who played Elise’s girlfriend, Paige, gives a great performance in some of her scenes and has the potential to make a nice splash in the horror realm. 

The cards are definitely stacked against Tarot. It doesn’t know if it wants to be taken seriously or lean into the horror-comedy a bit. A lot of the one-liner laughs are carried by Batal who does a decent job. There is a lot of wasted potential with Tarot. If it had a clear direction for its story and embraced its fun concept, there could have been a fun thrill ride here. However, that just wasn’t in the cards for this one.

Written by Chelsea Alexandra

Chelsea is a freelance writer and pop culture enthusiast and will talk to anyone who will listen about her favorite movies. She enjoys drinking a late night coffee that will keep her up all night and explaining why Armageddon (1998) is one of her favorite films.

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