As anyone who’s seen more than a few horror movies knows, it’s never a good idea to prank the weird kid, have premarital sex in a remote cabin, or build anything over an ancient burial ground. The makers of Tar go with the latter option, choosing the somewhat unique location of the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles for their saga of scares.
The story is set up with a long animated sequence and montage showing how the pit was formed and an info-dump about how there are a lot of carcasses preserved there, and no one is really sure what else may be lurking beneath the surface. Then we cut to the narrator, none other than the wonderful Grahame Greene (Thunderheart) as a homeless man telling the tale for quarters from passersby. That’s basically the last time we see him in any significant way, but fortunately, another good actor, Timothy Bottoms (Land of the Lost TV series), is there to take up the slack. We also have the popular scream queen, Tiffany Shepis (Tales of Halloween) in a fun role. But that is where the fun ends—the rest of the cast is pretty weak, and they are the leads.
The action follows Barry (Bottoms) and his son Zach (Aaron Wolf, who also directs) as they pack up their family business and prepare to leave L.A. for greener pastures. But L.A. –and the monster living in the tar pits—isn’t quite ready to let them go. Add Zach’s dimwitted friend Ben (Sandy Danto) and “the girlfriend” Rose (Emily Peachy), and you’ve got… not much.
As Tar dragged on and on, I could not believe they were actually going to stretch the paper-thin story out to one hour and thirty-six minutes! The first 45 minutes of the movie is about the family and friends packing up the office, some dad/son drama, and lame jokes (“It felt like the building burped!” says someone during a monster-induced underground rumble) interspersed with random flashbacks.
While there are a few good actors in the cast (how they talked into this is anyone’s guess), it’s not enough to make up for the painfully lacking storyline, and pitch-dark cinematography (the tar-creature might be cool, but you need the eyes of an owl to be able to know for sure). Another thing that annoyed me was the use of peppy pop songs thrown in without any rhyme or reason. Not to mention the dreaded “musical montage” (which only works in romcoms).
Having said that, I do tip my hat to anyone who takes the initiative to produce an independent horror film with so many elements—a fairly large cast, a practical-effects monster, and shooting on location in the streets of a big city—so it is an accomplishment for Wolf (who also co-wrote). Here’s hoping for some improvement in his next project. But until then…
…Don’t get stuck in Tar’s prehistoric ooze.