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TAROT and TERROR: An Uncomfortable but Profitable Partnering in Film

Maybe it means audience appeal and box-office earnings -- but partnering the age-old and respected art of divination with terror-thrills is a cheap shot.


One of the first axioms one learns when studying the tarot is that the Death Card in the major arcana does not usually mean—and certainly never has to mean—literal death. It means change and endings.


A similar truism of astrological study is that Capricorns are rule-followers and enforcers. That is so true, it is almost cliché.


So when the film TAROT mis-states (reverses) both of those principles in its initial reading scene it is clear that the film is not about accuracy and verisimilitude.


And that’s fine. Except in contemporary U.S. society, a lot of damage can be done, and much harm can be perpetuated against earth-based religions and alternate spiritual practices buy just such over-simplifications and false representations.  The association of anything spiritually unorthodox with evil and/or the related move to denigrate and belittle alternative spiritual seeking and practice is insulting and ultimately, intolerant.


Obviously, this review does not favor the film’s premise.  However, I can strengths in the film itself.


 For instance, I think that the lighting is excellent.  From the stereotypic opening scene of a group of youth (drinking) in a forest with a campfire to the haunted mansion, cabin in the woods, and deserted bridge shots to the ill-lit dormitory   with its over-stuffed attic to the empty subway tunnels, the film works with shades of gray and black in a masterful manner:  dim, dark, and darker.  Low-key lighting accentuates shadows and creates tension. Even the daylight scenes, such as the one in which the victims meet with the authorities in the library, are shot in with minimal natural or artificial light.


The darkness of the film is mirrored in the darkness of the tarot dark.  Drawings are stark and monochromatic. Costuming is also excellent, with the figures of the major arcana –including Death, the Magician, the Fool, the Devil, and the Hanged Man, depicted quite regally.

I also appreciate that fact that the movie left a lot of its gore and gruesomeness to the imagination.  This may have been done simply to abide within its PG-13 rating, or it could have been a choice to make the horror scenes a bit more suggestive instead of overt and explicit. Suggestion almost always trumps spectacle in this reviewer’s opinion.

 

There is an awkward amount of travel-time, as the friends leave the mansion, travel back to it, then travel to find the woman who can help them, and then return a third time to the mansion. If the travel scenes had been reduced, the film could have devoted more time to the back-story (the cursing of the deck) or to the current plot and the friends’ attempt to figure out a remedy.


However, the road trips and road time do not overwhelm the plot. Strong performances include that of well-known SPIDERMAN franchise actor Jacob Batalon as Paxton, whose funny-man antics make him the star of the friendship group and whose deux ex machina save at the end seems modelled after the one in GET OUT. Stand-out performances are given by the only two legitimate spiritual characters, the two crones: one who cursed the deck, the Astrologer (Suncica Milanovic), and the other who seeks to destroy that curse (Olwen Fouere).


The writing/directing team of Anne Halbert and Spenser Cohen deserves a lot of credit for creating a surprise hit. With only an eight-million-dollar budget, in the first three weeks of its release, the film earned twenty million. Released by Sony on May 3, 2024, the film should be available in June for digital purchase, and it will start streaming on Netflix as early as September.

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