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Tarot Review | Spider-Man’s Jacob Batalon Saves This PG-13 Horror Movie


Tarot Review | Spider-Man's Jacob Batalon Saves This PG-13 Horror Movie


Summary

  • The horror movie
    Tarot
    doesn’t understand the nature of its subject and has forgettable characters, but the engaging performance from Jacob Batalon adds humor and relatability.
  • The jump scares are surprisingly effective thanks to good editing, and the concept of the tarot cards as horror characters is cool.
  • The film lacks true horror intensity thanks to its PG-13 rating, and it relies on the usual horror tropes.



A box office joyride may not be in the cards for Tarot. The new horror film from co-directors Spenser Cohen (writer of Moonfall, The Expendables 4) and Anna Halberg suffers from an overuse of horror tropes and disposable characters. And there aren’t that many characters in the film. It’s saving grace is Jacob Batalon, an actor who is clearly having a moment. The fun sidekick from the Spider-Man films and the lead in Syfy’s Reginald the Vampire adds levity to the production, which, despite its inviting premise, never consistently thrills as much as it could have.


The story tracks seven college friends who violate a sacred rule of tarot readings. Unbeknownst to them, they unleash a wretched evil that is trapped inside the cursed cards. They each come face to face with manifested entities from the cards and suddenly find themselves desperately racing against death. Cohen and Halberg have also co-written the film with screenwriter Nicholas Adams, and they do infuse Tarot with a few strong moments. Several authentic jump scares will genuinely surprise you, and the devilish creatures presented here are more than eerie, but if it weren’t for Batalon’s presence, and especially his comedic timing, Tarot would have met a worse fate.


Smart Kids Doing Dumb Things

Tarot 2024 Movie Poster

Tarot (2024)

2/5

The plot centers on a group of college friends who start dying in ways that are related to their fortunes after having their tarot cards read. Before their time runs out, they have to work together to uncover the mystery.

Release Date
May 3, 2024

Director
Spenser Cohen and Anna Halberg

Runtime
92 minutes

Writers
Spenser Cohen and Anna Halberg

Studio(s)
Screen Gems , Alloy Entertainment , Ground Control

Distributor(s)
Sony Pictures Releasing

Pros

  • The premise is cool, and there are some good jump scares.
  • Jacob Batalon shines as the most relatable and likable person here.
Cons

  • The characters are unintelligent and disposable.
  • The film is extremely ignorant about actual Tarot, and the PG-13 rating makes it tame.


The filmmakers keep things very lean here — from cast to settings to lighting. In fact, this film is so dimly lit, you’d be forgiven if you drifted off. The plot itself never truly drags, however. At 92 minutes, we get in and out of the surreal ride in no time. The movie opens in a lavish mansion in the Catskills.

Seven college friends have rented the place for some downtime and to celebrate a birthday. There’s Paxton (Batalon), Haley (Harriet Slater), Grant (Adain Bradley), birthday girl Elise (Larsen Thompson), Lucas (Wolfgang Novogratz), Madeline (Humberly González), and Paige (Avantika). When they’ve run out of liquor, they decide to snoop around the estate. A locked door with a “Keep Out” sign doesn’t prevent them from breaking the lock and heading down into the basement.

2:08

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Surely, these hipsters don’t live in a universe where horror films exist. Never go down into a strange dark basement at night. Dear lord — these folks can vape, but nobody has seen Scream and Halloween? The crew soon discovers the basement is filled with occult paraphernalia. They come upon a mysterious boxed set of ancient hand-painted tarot cards filled with creepy images. (As an aside, most modern tarot decks and divinity cards are colorful, quite delightful, and informative. The film hasn’t had much pushback yet from the spiritual and wellness community, but stay tuned.)

Back upstairs, Haley, against her better judgment, decides to give everybody a reading combining tarot and astrology, which apparently is a no-no. Is it? In this movie, it is. In doing so, she unleashes the wackadoo evil from the cards and once the gang is back at the dorms, death comes knocking. Two friends are knocked off in two days. Everybody freaks out.


Jump Scares Are Mostly Effective in Tarot

Thanks to Google, Haley and others read up about a mysterious woman (Olwen Fouéré) who lost several of her friends to brutal deaths. As the sole survivor, she has kept herself secluded. When the gang does find her, a backstory emerges, providing more insight about the mysterious tarot cards. That story, in fact, seems far more frightening than the one we’re left to watch.

To their credit, the filmmakers keep the action moving thanks to sharp and effective editing. The jump scares work — 60/40. Most of them do the trick. Once we learn that the ominous readings Haley provided are somehow manifesting in real time, figures from the final card in those individual readings come to life and race after our motley crew. The Empress, for instance, can’t wait to kill an unsuspecting soul. Or The Magician, who has a ball sawing somebody in half in front of an audience. (Yet another aside: In traditional tarot, The Magician is actually an empowering card — as in… wave the magic and all that, and you can create your own destiny. But alas, why spoil the fun?)


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However, Tarot is lean on gore — it’s rated PG-13. As such, psychological frights and suspense abound instead. Cue the blinking lights, door slams, optical illusions, blasts of screechy music, etc. The result will likely not entertain heavy horror fans, but is more inviting to teenagers instead.

Thank God for Jacob Batalon


There’s also a backstory for Haley, who lost her mother to a tragic illness. This circles back later on. Perhaps Haley can empathize with whatever — whoever — cursed the cards and reverse the mayhem. The fate of the potential romance she once shared with Grant fires up in the last 15 minutes, when the dial is turned up high on special effects. Mostly believable, but after a while, you tend to feel as if you’re riding Pirates of the Caribbean at Disney World, while these frightening characters occasionally leap out at you.

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In the meantime, there’s Jacob Batalon. The actor’s engaging screen presence gives us a character we can relate to. The filmmakers were wise to give him the best dialogue and Tarot is a much more fun experience because of him. If you appreciate films about the occult, this may offer enough to keep you interested; but if you’re an aficionado of that world, Tarot might just piss you off.


Overall, like the infamous Tower card depicting a burning structure, Tarot lacks the stable creative foundation to keep it erect. (Final aside: The Tower card isn’t that horrible, really. It’s more about understanding that various structures that have been in place are going through a major transition, and that it’s best to consider moving on, rather than staying in a burning building, as it were. If only Hollywood would follow similar suit with the structures it created for most of today’s horror films.)

Tarot is a production of Screen Gems, Alloy Entertainment, and Ground Control, and the film hits theaters May 3 from Sony Pictures Entertainment.

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