If we're comparing failed Final Destination rehashes, Tarot is up there with the worst. Writers and directors Spenser Cohen and Anna Halberg aim for PG-13 sleepover-branded chills in Tarot, but sell the entire experience abysmally short. Their story about a cursed tarot deck is ludicrously underwritten and dopey, discarding established in-universe rationale mere minutes after cement dries. It's a movie that sequences events like they're mistakenly out of order, with Cohen and Halberg treating the audience like they’ve never seen a horror movie before — or maybe they’re praying we haven’t

In the film, stereotypical college students rent the equivalent of Scrooge McDuck's mansion on Airbnb for one of their birthdays. When the last beer can pops open, partiers panic and search the premises for hidden alcohol, which leads them into a musty once-locked basement filled with astrological artifacts — one being a hand-drawn deck of tarot cards in an engraved container. Haley (Harriet Slater) is guilted into reading everyone's horoscopes, unknowingly sealing her friends' fates. Whatever prophecies she utters start happening in real life but with unexpected consequences, as the group dies one by one.

Cohen and Halberg’s Tarot has less than nothing to do with Nicholas Adams' 1992 novel Horrorscope after the name change (Tarot should still be titled Horrorscope for the record). Adams’ spooky literature doesn’t influence any of this forgettably dull horror snoozer that doesn't even have the decency to be bad-but-batty like another Final Destination riff, Wish Upon. Tarot is a dismally told story, like a carbon copy of twenty-thousand other teenage horror flicks with chucks torn from blueprints. None of the kids' personalities matter, because they exist to be killed off-camera by a handful of Zodiac fiends dealt by Haley. Characters make that abundantly clear the way they ignore canon logic the nanosecond Cohen and Halberg need to kill another victim.

There's a bafflingly inept stretch of Tarot after the deck claims two victims in rapid order, leaving Haley's crew to assess the possibility of murder. Jacob Batalon's vaping jokester Paxton suggests the horoscope readings might be to blame, which the gang agrees upon as a survival consensus. Haley repeats aloud the predictions for their deceased classmates, which align with reported causes of death, so you'd think this knowledge would turn the tables slightly the next time someone meets their card-illustrated executioner — which is the complete opposite. Humberly González's Madeline does precisely what the movie clarifies not to do with zero hesitation, and even worse, after that dust settles, Batalon's goofball aggressively rejects the very reality he initially posited, like the last ten minutes worth of exposition doesn't exist.

Tarot's sins stack miles high, but filmmakers hope we'll excuse cockamamie tale-telling because of a few malevolent creatures. Siren Head creator and creepshow artist Trevor Henderson conceptualized eight original monsters brought to life by special effects designer Dan Martin. Their ranks, first tarot-sketched by Richard Wells, are a rare bright spot whether The High Priestess screeches with a gunky-bloody mouth or The Fool rotates its abdomen like a windmill, much to Paxton's displeasure. There’s a monster-of-the-week appeal to each mini-boss, like a diet version of the Thir13en Ghosts’ Black Zodiac. Although, some designs still disappoint — The Magician's card gives him a smile like Ethan Hawke's Black Phone mask, but his on-screen representation plainly resembles Bill Moseley from The Devil's Carnival.

For whatever spotty excitement exists, momentum hits a neck-breaking halt. Cohen and Halberg aren't clever when it comes to hiding gore since the PG-13 rating only allows for a bloody squirt into frame that gets overused. Nor does the tag-team successfully blend Haley's bottled grief with the deck's supernatural tethered soul, a vengeful spirit dubbed "The Astrologer," as their backstories overlap. Tarot is a one-trick pony that can barely even showcase its specialty move, hindered further by the filmmakers' inability to handle anything more than the most redundantly familiar genre tropes. Dialogue is stiff, and motivations are laughable — heck, nothing really works outside death scenes like The Magician's axe-in-the-box trick.

Young adults make dunderheaded choices, but that hardly justifies the prevailing nonsense in Tarot. It's the kind of PG-13 horror example that gives the softer rating a lousy reputation, but that's unfair. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and Insidious invaded our nightmares with nary a red stain. Problems with pacing, attention to detail, and fundamental narrative cohesion become signatures of this underperforming misfire. Tarot's house of cards topples shortly after the title text vanishes, and the rest is about as exciting as playing 52 pickup.

Movie Score: 2/5

  • Matt Donato
    About the Author - Matt Donato

    Matt Donato is a Los Angeles-based film critic currently published on SlashFilm, Fangoria, Bloody Disgusting, and anywhere else he’s allowed to spread the gospel of Demon Wind. He is also a member of the Critics Choice Association. Definitely don’t feed him after midnight.