Signal Horizon

See Beyond

{Movie Review} Tar (2020)

Tar is a creature feature, co-written by Timothy Nutton and Aaron Wolf, with a cool back story and loads of potential. With a fantastic trailer, Tar looked like a low-budget horror gem, but it falls a bit short of the drive in classic I hoped it would be.

The film starts off on the right foot, with a simple and workable premise.  It opens with the homeless man telling the mysterious history surrounding the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles. With the foundation set, the film then moves to the present day, where an office building across the street from the great trailer tar pit and history museum is set to be demolished to expand the subway system. 

With only a few hours to vacate the building before their shady landlord fines them an additional one-hundred thousand dollars, there are a few business owners pulling an all-nighter to finish clearing out by the 6 am deadline. However, digging the new subway tunnel released a massive beast with a long history of carnage. With each passing hour, the beast gets closer and closer to the unsuspecting group of people within the building. Is there anything they can do to defeat the massive beast known as or is it already too late? 

After a solid start, the movie loses gets lost in the past. Literally there are SO MANY flashbacks, forced dialogue, and time spent developing a paper-thin father/son conflict that does little to enhance the story. It also takes far too long to finally engage with the beast, which is actually very well done. However, by the time it actually arrived, I no longer cared about the well being of the characters. 

That said, Tar is far from a throwaway movie. In fact, there is some great potential here. The overall production value was superb, the special effects were solid, and so was the acting.

The father, Barry (Timothy Bottoms), and the homeless man, Carl (Graham Greene) are fantastic. The issue is that Bottoms and Greene are so good, that it makes it hard for the rest of the cast to keep up. Especially given the number of scenes where the majority of characters are just sitting in a room waiting for something to happen.

Next, is the film’s tame execution. The film’s trailer portrayed a hardcore, old-school horror movie perfect for a brief stint at the Drive-In prior to being released for VOD. However, this one felt like a bit like what you’d expect if the Lifetime Movie Network released a creature feature starring a male protagonist. You get some laughs, a little tension, and glimpses of horror, but nothing too intense. 

On the other hand, LMN differs from Tar because they know their intended audience and they deliver exactly what their audience enjoys. By the end of the film, Wolf, who also directed the film, tries to wrap it all up in a wink-wink-style-self-awareness that only served to undermine the previous 75 minutes of the movie. I can’t help but wonder how strong this movie could have been if they had set the late-night Drive-In crew as their intended audience and started with the end in mind.   

Another opportunity missed was the use of the creature. Most low-budget creature features fail when it comes time to the monster reveal. They either blow it by relying on terrible CGI or a hokie mask, but the creature’s makeup in Tar is well done. The question then becomes why was the creature not more prevalent throughout the movie?

The answer may be in the tar. It spreads and subsequently traps unsuspecting victims. However, as the story progressed, the additional scenes with the tar creeping into the building started to feel like the pink slime from Ghostbusters ll. While it was meant to signify the creature was getting ever closer, it started to lose its impact after a while. 

Instead of an action-packed battle against an ancient beast with unimaginable power, the story spent most of its runtime trying to develop a heartfelt story about a father and son who have never seen eye to eye. In effect, by the end, the creature seemed disconnected from the father and son’s relationship. While that, in and of itself, isn’t a problem, the issue was there weren’t any real struggles for the father and son to overcome.

Sure they weren’t super close, but the son, Zach (Wolf) presented like an entitled little brat, while his father Barry (Bottoms), was a much more likable character. With so much riding on this relationship, there needed to be a major reveal to justify Zach’s whining. Unfortunately, that never happened. Despite my own set of issues with my father, I found myself siding with Barry instead of Zach. That said, if I’m being totally honest, by the end of the movie, I found myself rooting for the monster.

Despite its flaws, Tar is still worth checking out. With a few adjustments, this film would have been a Drive-In sensation. If Wolf and his team give horror another shot in the future, I hope they start with and fully commit to the over-the-top sense of humor they sprinkled throughout this film.