Tarot Review: Cliché-Ridden Supernatural Slasher Operates With A Broken Premise

The laziness in the writing is exceptional.

Jacob Batalon as Paxton getting a tarot reading in Tarot
(Image: © Sony)

There are many elements that can contribute to a great horror film, but an indisputable one is tension of the unknown. A huge part of experiencing cinematic fear is being completely unaware of what may be lurking in the shadows or around the corner in a long hallway or behind a locked door. Nothing gets hearts racing in an audience like unleashing the unexpected, and if you can do that regularly over the course of 90 to 120 minutes, the end results are going to be positive.


Haley (Harriet Slater) looking scared in Tarot

(Image credit: Sony)

Release Date: May 3, 2024
Directed By: Anna Halberg and Spenser Cohen
Written By: Anna Halberg and Spenser Cohen
Starring: Harriet Slater, Adain Bradley, Avantika Vandanapu, Wolfgang Novogratz, Humberly González, Larsen Thompson, Jacob Batalon, and Olwen Fouéré
Rating: PG-13 for horror violence, terror, bloody images, some strong language and drug content
Runtime: 92 minutes

Watching Tarot, it’s made apparent that this fairly basic idea is lost on writer/directors Anna Halberg and Spenser Cohen. Creating legitimate tension is next to impossible when you spell out exactly what’s going to happen at every point in the story, and spelling out exactly what’s going to happen at every point in the story is this film’s entire premise. It is possible to artfully utilize foreshadowing in the genre – Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead and The World’s End are two movies that instantly pop to mind – but Tarot is an exercise in extreme overkill.

It’s bad enough that the movie has a boiler plate slasher structure, with an inciting incident leading to the main characters being killed off one by one, but every step of the story is also telegraphed from the jump, and there isn’t even entertainment compensation that comes with freaky or clever kills. The PG-13 rating holds it back from every getting extreme or especially gnarly, and not even the many cheap jump scares end up triggering one’s instinctual fight-or-flight response as intended.

Based on the novel Horrorscope by author Nicholas Adams (an infinitely better title), Tarot begins as a group of friends from an unnamed Boston university make their way out to the Catskills to stay in a mansion for a birthday celebration. When the protagonists discover that they have run out of booze, they begin to scavenge around the rental looking for a secret stash, and they think that they find what they are looking for when they discover a locked door with a sign that requests visitors stay out. Ignoring the instruction, the characters find their way in and discover a dank basement that is filled with astrology-related equipment.

One thing they find among the racks of stuff is a wooden box with a tarot deck, and with the partying college students desperate for fun, they look to the expert among them, Haley (Harriet Slater), to read their horoscopes. She explains that there is an unwritten rule about using someone else’s cards, but this warning is disregarded in favor of five minutes of entertainment… and this (obviously) turns out to be a major mistake. It turns out that the old, hand-painted deck full of overtly creepy artwork was cursed by an 18th century astrologist (Sunčica Milanović), and the members of the friend group soon find themselves meeting final fates predicted by Haley’s divination.

There are no surprises to be found in Tarot, and it’s not just because the movie spells out everything that is going to happen in the first 10 minutes.

I suppose it’s possible that Tarot’s premise could work if it functioned with any degree of either subtlety or some kind of a wry, meta acknowledgement of the film’s own silliness, but it has neither, and it dooms the work. As though it weren’t bad enough that the first act spells out what’s on the way for each of the characters, the movie actually replays the various horoscopes via modulated voice over during each of the kill scenes – as if to say, “Did we not ruin all the surprise in this moment earlier? Let’s give it another whack just in case!” In 92 minutes, there isn’t a single attempt to upend expectation or convention; it’s committed to being as basic as it can be for an audience with goldfish-level attention spans.

Another solution for mitigating the boredom that Tarot inspires would be even an inkling of self-awareness and winking at movie-goers, but again, it just doesn’t even bother. It unfolds as though it is the first ever attempt at a supernatural slasher with zero demonstrated cognizance of the clichés it peddles in, and it makes it all the more frustrating. It’s a film that is clearly aiming at younger audiences with less cinematic genre experience (hence the PG-13 rating), but that just makes it come across as bad starter horror.

A cast of young actors do their best in Tarot, but there’s only so much that can be done with an ensemble of terrifically bland characters.

The young cast of Tarot does its job and each actor delivers a serviceable performance – but it’s hardly challenging work, as the majority of the characters can’t even be called one-dimensional because they aren’t given a single dimension to work with. Harriet Slater’s Haley is the horoscope expert, and Jacob Batalon, best known for his role as Ned in the MCU Spider-Man movies, plays a goofy stoner-type named Paxton… but I’m honestly at a total loss to describe the personalities of any of the other protagonists. One of them is Haley’s ex (Adain Bradley) and another one is the birthday girl in the movie’s opening scene (Larsen Thompson), but that’s as much as I can give you, and there are three other characters in the mix (played by Avantika Vandanapu, Wolfgang Novogratz, and Humberly González). The laziness in the writing is exceptional.

There isn’t a single good scare to be found in Tarot as even cheap jump scares fail to inspire jumping.

The one bit of credit that Tarot deserves concerns its monster design, as the conjurations that emerge from the hand-painted cards in the film are sincerely freaky-looking, but their utilization is yet another item on the list of this movie’s fails. The go-to scare move in this one is having a figure in shadows quickly change or shift positions, and there isn’t a single attempt at sending a jolt through the audience that works. Between the ruinous foreshadowing, the poor staging, the lame editing, and the obvious scoring, this is horror that inspires zero fear… which makes one then question if it even qualifies as part of the genre.

Tarot is now in competition with Bryce McGuire’s Night Swim to go down as the lamest horror movie of 2024 – and I’d say it has an edge if not especially because of its ending, which is a pathetic excuse for a conclusion and makes zero sense. This is a film that the studio should have hidden in the post-holiday hangover that is early January or the box office doldrums of late August, because it’s embarrassing as a start-of-summer wide release.

Eric Eisenberg
Assistant Managing Editor

Eric Eisenberg is the Assistant Managing Editor at CinemaBlend. After graduating Boston University and earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism, he took a part-time job as a staff writer for CinemaBlend, and after six months was offered the opportunity to move to Los Angeles and take on a newly created West Coast Editor position. Over a decade later, he's continuing to advance his interests and expertise. In addition to conducting filmmaker interviews and contributing to the news and feature content of the site, Eric also oversees the Movie Reviews section, writes the the weekend box office report (published Sundays), and is the site's resident Stephen King expert. He has two King-related columns.