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The Tarot can be seen as a late gift from a parent to their child, who has grown up: “Hey, remember those wacky horoscopes? For Taurus season? On BuzzFeed?” The old set of tarot cards that haunts the lead characters is stored in an ancient closet, and that mustiness sticks around long after they’ve left.

The basis for Tarot goes back even further than social media astrology: a 1992 novel called Horrorscope, by Nicholas Adams (a pseudonym for YA author Michael Dobbs). In the movie version, seven college friends find the cards during a weekend birthday celebration; Haley (Harriet Slater), who adopted tarot as a hobby following her mother’s terminal cancer diagnosis, does readings for everyone. But after the weekend is over, the friends begin dying under suspiciously gory circumstances – although it’s sometimes hard to tell, as the movie has a tendency to cut away to generic side-splatters of blood. These deaths tie obliquely back to the victims’ tarot draws (and also confusingly to the wording of Haley’s descriptions). The group soon (but not very soon) realizes that they’re cursed and tries to break free before it kills them all. Because there are almost no other characters in Tarot beyond this core seven-person group, their deaths serve as convenient markers of how much longer there is until this movie ends.

Horror movies don’t have to provide moral guidance – and sometimes scolding too often shades into nastiness. But it’s worth noting here how little care or buildup is given toward unleashing a vengeful killer spirit upon its unsuspecting victims. Haley and her friends aren’t exactly tampering recklessly with forces beyond their ken, delving into forbidden knowledge or succumbing to some momentary ethical lapse; really all they do wrong is pry open a locked closet door and look at some cards. It’s not unlike watching a horror movie where a crone stalks and kills a bunch of kids for not using coasters.

Indeed, there are moments – particularly in the beginning and the very end — when writer-director team Spenser Cohen and Anna Halberg seem to understand the absurdity of their premise, and they briefly gesture toward making an actual horror comedy. This isn’t a bad instinct; there is a core funny idea embedded within Tarot that goes almost entirely unexploited: What if all those astrologically inclined predictions were as difficult to decode as Final Destination-style death omens

Unfortunately, the Tarot is far too earnest to unleash any real scares. Instead we get a mostly standard-issue shapeshifter-ghost with an initially cool look and usual repertoire of clicks, skitters, howls, and sudden rushes. Paxton (Jacob Batalon from the MCU Spider-Man movies) gets saddled with all of the not-funny-enough business while Avantika (from the recent Mean Girls musical) — along with other talented performers like her — go through their paces as characters in a PG-13 horror movie that’s inexplicably added scenes where they bicker over whether or not to go back to the unhelpful cops … more than halfway into the movie! How does this keep happening? It’s like eavesdropping on a tedious screenwriters’ debate.

Which isn’t much fun, either; it’s also like eavesdropping in that there’s not much to see. Tarot is shot in such low-contrast darkness that everything looks like it’s taking place in a drowsy wee-hours haze. At least Jeff Wadlow’s gimmicky horror movies like Truth or Dare and Fantasy Island have a certain baseline slickness and dopey entertainment value, Tarot is just a glum slog that occasionally tries to cheer itself up with late ’90s-style teen-movie glibness. (Most insultingly for the final few minutes that seem to almost brag about making no sense.) No need to read the cards: There’s no future here.

Tarot never quite seems sure if its thinly conceived premise should be played for laughs or actual scares. It ends up with neither, stumbling around in the dark and turning its small ensemble into a crude means of timekeeping for its surprisingly sluggish 90-minute runtime instead of using them as characters with whom we might actually engage emotionally or intellectually.

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