By JAMES TUCKER
Starring: Aaron Wolf, Timothy Bottoms, Tiffany Shepsis
Directed by Aaron Wolf
Written by Aaron Wolf, Tim Nutall
Produced by Howling Wolf Productions
Plumbing the murky depths of Aaron Wolf’s TAR was excruciating. It sounded promising enough at first, a creature feature that focuses on the reemergence of a magical (possibly problematically) Native American tar monster who was summoned by the impending demolition of a small, family-owned business’ building. Unfortunately, it turned out to be more of a time sinkhole with vapid, caricature-like characters, painfully awkward dialogue, and mind-boggling directorial choices. Watching it was like slowly sinking into a muck of aggravation and frustration, and while the third act of the film features some satisfactory monster movie action, by that point TAR was too far gone; nothing could have saved it.
From the outset TAR felt off: frontloading scenes with its soundtrack so that we shifted from scene to scene like a teenager scrolling through a playlist, frequent cuts to the main character at the end of the film (presumably reflecting on the film’s events, although the frequency of these cuts really does nothing for the plot except remind you that the main character survives. Oh, and it doesn’t get better: this happens throughout the film.), and clunky and awkward dialogue that gave each scene a bit of an uncanny valley vibe, like it was put through Google Translate a few times or written by Evie bot. I wish I was exaggerating, but the dialogue and the ways in which characters interacted with each other were so stilted, random, and inhuman that they undercut much of what might have been the film’s tension: conversations between characters frequently shambled and jilted from one subject to another without logic or warning. Very few of the quotes I am about to share with you are outright offensive out of context, but in context… well, trust me. You don’t want to see for yourself.
“TAR is a problematic, poorly written mess of a film that doesn’t deliver on it’s basic, bloody premise.”
Here are a few samples of the dialogue in this film.
“Hindsight’s a funny gift.”
“That is a rumor. / Are you kidding me, that is a fact. / No, that is a rumor. / Ah, no, that is a fact! / Don’t go start spreading rumors!”
“It’s just procedure young Greenwald. / Oh yeah, it’s procedure you wipe my ass.” (Kinky.)
“I’ll be up and he’ll be down. OR, he’ll be up and I’ll be down. / I’ve been the third wheel in that situation enough times, so trust me, I know.”
“I hear words, but I’m night blind, so I can’t…”
“I think that’s a fair exchange. Your life for… your tongue, in my mouth.”
“Hey, these are mine! I looked for these for two weeks a year ago.”
The dialogue was easily one of the most unsettling things about this film, but almost worse were the characters. Most of the side characters could be boiled down to one grossly overexaggerated stereotype, and not in a fun, campy, Cabin in the Woods kind of way. The creepy schlubby nerd who borders on incel, the vapid horoscope girl who allows herself to be attacked because “she feels the monster is gone” (tell me, spiritual folks, is this even remotely close to something you would do?), a tight-buttoned lesbian assistant whose literal only role is to ogle her boss, and her boss, who only exists to be stared at by every character onscreen and gets eaten after she doesn’t give the incel a kiss. Yep. Nothing potentially problematic there. It was a mercy when characters died, as all of them bounced from borderline likeable to outright intolerable over the course of the film. Worst of all is the main character Zach, played by director Aaron Wolf. I still don’t know if it was the terrible screenwriting that made Zach feel colorless and two dimensional or Aaron Wolf’s delivery, which rivals that of Mark Wahlberg in The Happening.
And you know what? All of that may have been forgivable if the film itself had been entertaining, if it had delivered on its bloody, ichor-soaked promise of a terrifying tar monster seeping up from the cracks of civilization and wreaking havoc. But it didn’t. Not only is the creature design not anything special, not only is the creature barely present in the first hour of the film, but aside from a couple of kills near the end the tar monster’s kills are actively hilarious. There is a moment where a construction worker chases a tennis ball down into a gutter, and as he kneels to get it, the screen cuts to black. Then tar seeps out of the gutter, and there’s a cut to black. And the tar continues to very slowly spread around this man as it cuts to black repeatedly, until there’s an extended cut to black, and then lo and behold… he’s covered in tar, and he’s screaming in slow motion!! I busted out laughing. And then I was frustrated, because the tar monster’s early kills get hidden from us as Wolf cuts away from the carnage. By the time we got to the film’s TWO satisfying kills (out of what, five? Six?) it had lost me, and I was screaming at the screen because of the ridiculously contrived ending. Hint: it involves a powerful homemade flashlight, a blade with the family name carved on it (which came out of nowhere and has no real relevance to the plot), and the words “don’t fuck with my family.”
I usually include a note or two about messaging, but it feels mostly unnecessary here as what isn’t problematic is borderline incomprehensible. This film mixes its metaphors and compares the main character’s struggling with family obligations to a tar monster, then decides family is good in the third act, fighting tar with tar until all that’s left is a mess. A potentially problematic, poorly written, intensely aggravating mess that doesn’t even hit high enough on my batshit meter to be worth a watch.
Bottom line? Consider this a warning. Don’t venture into TAR. If you do, you may find you’ll never get that time back.