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Writers/Directors Spenser Cohen & Anna Halberg keep it simple with the PG-13 horror movie Tarot. Instead of a cold open to hook audiences on the horror, Tarot launches straight into introducing the group of seven friends partaking in a party weekend at an isolated manor.

It’s there that they dabble with things they shouldn’t, setting in motion a curse that will pick them off one by one, slasher style. With an equal group of monsters to match, Tarot has the makings of a breezy gateway horror movie perfect for sleepovers, though it’s undermined by surface-level characters and storytelling.

The moment the beer runs dry, forcing the friends to seek entertainment elsewhere, birthday girl Elise (Larsen Thompson) insists that Haley (Harriet Slater) puts her tarot knowledge to good use when they find a mysterious deck within the house. Haley warns that it’s extremely bad luck to borrow another person’s deck but gives in to peer pressure. Haley’s readings establish Paxton (Jacob Batalon) as the group’s comedic relief, Elise’s doting girlfriend Paige (Avantika) as the responsible one of the bunch, Lucas (Wolfgang Novogratz) as the risk taker, Madeline (Humberly González) as someone who evades her problems, and Grant (Adain Bradley) as a kind soul still reeling from his breakup with Haley. Not to be left out, Haley reads her own cards, revealing a grounded fatalist struggling with her outlook on life. None of them know it yet, but the future foretold in their readings will come back to haunt them.

Cast of Tarot

Adain Bradley ‘Grant’ and Jacob Batalon ‘Paxton’ in Screen Gems TAROT

Cohen & Halberg zip along, falling into a steady rhythm of creating distinct set pieces around each tarot entity as they stalk their respective victims. The deaths themselves adhere to the PG-13 rating (don’t expect much gore here), but the filmmakers bypass this by framing them in a way that lets the viewer’s imagination fill in the blanks to heighten the horror. The entities themselves are inventive interpretations of tarot cards, practically handled as much as possible by 13 Finger FX. So much so that you wish they were given far more screen time.

Instead, Tarot spends the bulk of its time with one-note characters and heavy-handed exposition. Cohen & Halberg attempt to shake up the kill order, but the archetypical roles mean it’s easy to determine who’s marked for death and who may yet survive. Haley, for example, screams Final Girl from the moment she’s introduced. That she, along with her dying friendsare steps behind the curse means that Tarot also relies too heavily on exposition dumps. The fortunes are too on the nose, as is Haley’s thematic arc with concepts of fate, and not even Olwen Fouéré (MandyTexas Chainsaw Massacre) can rise above the explanatory monologue she’s saddled with to set up the third act.

Tarot horror movie exclusive images

Even when the explanation behind the horror feels like a familiar retread, Cohen & Halberg inject enough visual flourishes to keep things engaging and moving along. The creature designs from 13 Finger FX, and concept artist Trevor Henderson are fun, and the production design further embellishes the creativity behind the tarot entities and their murder tactics. For as much as Tarot spells out its characters and themes, humans and otherwise, Cohen & Halberg do leave some narrative corners unexplored. There’s a particular shorthand when it comes to its settings and the strange house that kicks off the horror events. 

Seasoned horror fans will pick up on the influences and note the parallels between Tarot and Insidious in a key scene featuring an original song by composer Joseph Bishara (Insidious), making it even easier to predict the outcome. That the scares are more geared toward a younger audience won’t help either. Still, Tarot has just enough polish and monster fun to make for a straightforward, inoffensive, and easy foothold into the genre. 

Tarot releases in theaters on May 3, 2024.

2.5 out of 5 skulls

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