Tar (2020) Should Have Stayed Buried in the Pits from Whence It Came
First Wide Release: October 2, 2020 (Theatrical Release)
Director: Aaron Wolf
Writer: Timothy Nuttall, Aaron Wolf
Runtime: 96 Minutes
Starring: Aaron Wolf, Timothy Bottoms, Emily Peachey
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
Zach (Aaron Wolf) and his father, Barry (Timothy Bottoms) are in the process of clearing out their family business from its office location after being evicted. Everyone is moody and processing the loss of their jobs and the community they have formed throughout the years. They only have through the end of the night to move, clean, and vacate the premises unless they want to pay a huge fine. Unfortunately for them, a beast has been awakened nearby. Just a few meters over at the La Brea Tar Pits, a murderous creature has its eyes set on the hapless team and is intent on making their move as unpleasant as possible.
Tar plays its wacky premise straight then mars whatever potential it has with poor choices in characters, pacing, and direction.
Much like the fate of any person that stumbles into the La Brea Tar Pits, Tar gets stuck and doesn’t really go anywhere. Its interesting setup is muddled by repetitive scenes and dialogue that confines the film to focusing on actors exchanging annoying conversation with each other while they’re either packing or waiting to get attacked by a monster. The mythology of the creature is dropped in one big exposition dump by a homeless man and is never really brought back up or expanded upon more.
This may be the pettiest thing to be irritated with, but it bothers me to no end that they work at a literal snail’s pace. The whole reason why this group of coworkers is working late into the night is to pack away and deep clean everything to avoid the wrath of the ruthlessly cheerful landlord that has swept them out. There’s this bizarre sense of urgency in the dialogue that is largely unmatched with the character’s actions or the set design. It would make for a good gag if the film tried for a more comedic angle, but it plays its tone rather straight which is... certainly a choice. It kept taking me out of the moment because it doesn’t feel realistic.
While we are on the topic, the characters also don’t feel real. Both annoying and one dimensional, characters in Tar make unbelievably abysmal decisions that induce eyerolls more than screams or gasps of fright. Aside from the two leading males, no one is given much backstory or interest beyond a few throwaway lines. Even then, stubbornness and a propensity to annoy while deeply caring for the other are the only salient traits for the Greenwoods. Bottoms is the only cast member that offers any sort of compelling performance here. The rest idle by until it’s their turn to die.
The setting adds to this feeling of stagnation. With a premise like this, I expect some action in the sewers and some gnarly chase sequences. Instead, we are treated to a bunch of sitting around and waiting for the monster to kill the cast off in quick spurts, mostly in the same barricaded room. Outside of one, largely offscreen kill, the viewer has to endure almost 50 minutes of mundanity before sinking into the gooey slashfest promised by the film. And even then, the film is frustrating because of its lack of imagination because every scene from there on out is almost the same. With a bolder script and bigger budget, this could have been a really good time.
There are a few bright spots hidden amongst the slime. The art direction in the prologue sets a perfect tone, that is subsequently ignored. The creature’s design and the effects accompanied by it are fantastic! Unfortunately, that’s pretty much all it has going for it. The production values are here, they are just wasted on silly things like out of place pop songs in the soundtrack and flashback sequences that could be easily cut to soothe runtime issues.
Despite a promising setup which could have molded it into the next grindhouse throwback it aspired to be, this indie feature makes little impact once it clears the five-minute mark. Grating characters, choppy editing, and dreadful pacing make Tar an absolute chore to get through. I was really rooting for it in the beginning, but there was no escaping once the mundanity set in. I wouldn’t recommend spending money on this if I were you. There are much better and more enjoyable films of a similar nature that won’t numb your brain. Send it back to the La Brea Tar Pits where it belongs.
Overall Score? 4.5/10