Posted by Holly
Usually when I come across a particularly low-budget attempt at a horror film, I cut the filmmakers a break. Even if it’s a failed attempt, I admire the spirit of it, the ambition involved, and the creativity needed for trying to work with so many limitations. And often enough, there’s a competent story in there, somewhere, obscured by the restrictions a lack of funding can cause. Giving films like this a bad review feels more like bullying; these films will more than likely fade into the background based on their own merit.
When films are bad and offensive, I’m somewhat less gentle with them.
Dark Tarot begins with four wealthy married women receiving letters in the mail; the sender reveals they have some knowledge pertinent to their lives, and implores that they come to the designated location. Once there, the women learn they are being blackmailed; their host has come into possession of a journal written by a recently deceased man named Connor, who was employed by each woman as a pool boy. This journal happens to detail the affair he had with each woman. If this wasn’t enough, a medium arrives to stir things up a little further, but ends up opening a door to let the dead man’s anger through.
Please take a moment to let that sink in. This is an actual story, that someone thought up, showed to another person, and somehow, that person agreed that this would make a good horror film. Then they managed to convince a handful of actors and crew members to go along with this, and not once along the way did anyone ask the obvious question: “Are we sure this wouldn’t actually be a better porn?”
This movie is bad, don’t get me wrong, and the plot is a mess, but I could have forgiven those indiscretions. The problem here is that this movie has a pretty scary attitude towards women and sex. The women are all guilty of affairs, that’s true enough, and it’s something one can feel free to morally condemn. However, this movie takes it a step further, and essentially punishes the women for their affairs by having them killed off by the ghost of the man they had an affair with. I don’t feel like I need to explain why that’s somewhat disturbing.
The movie does its part to try and make the women seem bad and deserving of their fate in other ways – they’re manipulative and cruel in many cases, and one of them murders the host to stop the blackmail. None of the reasons they present really make sense as to why Connor should be justified in killing them, especially in the creepy way he does. The women keep finding glasses of wine set out for them, which inexplicibly, they keep drinking. Then, they essentinally get ghost-roofied, then ghost-sexed to death.
Let’s take the character of Claudia; we learn that during her affair with Connor, she tells her husband about what’s happening, in an attempt to arouse a reaction in him. In turn, the husband beats Connor out of rage and jealousy. I think anyone looking at that situation can see that there are three distinctive people making decisions here, all of them doing things that are morally questionable. However, in the narrative, Claudia shoulders 100% of the blame for this incident, and dies for it – with no accountability expected of either of the men. This is pretty much how the entire story plays out.
In the end, the one wife who survives does so because she had an affair in the “correct” way; she had a cheating husband, and truly loved Connor. Since she had sex for apparently the right reasons, she was given a pass. And that’s what highlights the problem here: a woman who has loveless sex while married is a villain. A man who has loveless sex with multiple married women is a victim of their feminine wiles.
This film also plays on a major pet peeve of mine, which is the use of tarot cards without actually bothering to research them. Tarot reading is a minor hobby of mine, so seeing the Death card pulled, then a bunch of gasps because of the assumption that it means literal death has always been an annoyance. This movie actually does have a bit of research done, and the medium character explains some of the real meanings to the characters throughout, but it’s not enough to feel like the use of the cards was correct, or even justified.
Dark Tarot isn’t a film you’re likely to come across outside of the world of streaming services, and there’s a reason for that. It’s full writing problems, inconsistencies, and poor acting. It’s such a bad movie that it’s almost not worth talking about at all. But it is worth talking about, because it shows us that time and time again, horror films fall back on narratives that punish women for their sexual choices, believing that there’s an audience for this. I’d like to warn as many people away from these particularly blatant offenders as I possibly can.
Rating: 1 out of 5. Bleh.
Scariness level: The acting is pretty scary at times? I don’t know, I’ve got nothing.
Violence level: There’s some blood when the host is killed, a faked suicide by hanging, and… ghost sex death?
Bechdel test: Here’s where my blood starts to boil. This film stars five women, with two male characters that don’t appear all that often. This film barely passes the Bechdel test, and perhaps does only for one scene in which Helena is attempting to explain tarot cards to Liz. In an entire movie comprised almost exclusively of women, there’s only one scene that comes to mind that helps this pass.
Mako Mori test: Nope. With the exception of Helena, every woman’s plot revolves around surviving Connor’s wrath. Helena has what appears to be an attempt at a minor side plot involving proving she is a real psychic, for the memory of her grandmother, but it’s only brought up in two scenes and really never resolved. Fail.