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Tar (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jul 18, 2023

TAR (2020)

Starring Aaron Wolf, Emily Peachey, Timothy Bottoms, Nicole Alexandra Shipley, Stuart Stone, Tiffany Shepis, Graham Greene, Sandy Danto, Michelle Bernard, Cinta Laura Kiehl, Dani Fernandez, Mark Gessner, Ashley Iocco, Bobby Ramos, Flynn Falcone, Simon Carmody, Spike Leffke, Liam Grace, Donovan Clark and Max Perlich.

Written by Aaron Wolf.

Directed by Timothy Nuttall and Aaron Wolf.

Distributed by 1091 Pictures. 95 minutes. Rated PG-13.

Back in the 1970s, there was a cult-favorite TV series called Kolchak: The Night Stalker. It was a show in which Carl Kolchak – a Chicago newsman played by Darren McGavin (Ralphie’s old man in A Christmas Story) – had to hunt down a different monster every week. The creatures ranged from the classic (vampires, witches, UFOs, werewolves, zombies, killer robots) to the more obscure (The Rakshasa, Père Malfait, a succubus, the Diablero). The show was fun and funny, sometimes scary, sometimes a little cheesy, and the monsters always looked like a guy in a costume.

Over 45 years later, Tar feels like a new-millennium episode of Kolchak, extended to feature length. It’s sometimes scary, sometimes funny, sometimes a little cheesy, and when you finally do see the creature it looks like a guy in a costume. They just added more blood and mayhem for the new generation, which I suppose is progress of some sort.

The monster here is Matchi Manitou, a tar monster. It is a gooey creature who periodically, when it is disturbed, leaves its lair in the La Brea Tar Pits in order to hunt down and kill unfortunate Los Angelenos, trapping them with oozing tar. The movie poster claims that the film is “Based on the true legend,” but I was not able to find anything about a La Brea Tar monster in my brief research – either real or mythical. Also, the only Matchi-Manitou I was able to find was a small unorganized territory in Quebec.

Matchi Manitou looks and acts sort of like the Marvel anti-hero Venom, spreading sticky tendrils of tar all around and then eventually emerging from the ooze. He is apparently awakened when the city of Los Angeles breaks into his lair while digging tunnels for a new subway.

The heroes – or victims – here are the Greenwood family and their friends and coworkers. They have been told to vacate their offices, where they have had a family business for decades, overnight because the building is going to be torn down. (That seems like really short notice.)

Most of the film, with the exception of some establishing and ending scenes in the LA streets, takes place in that building. Patriarch Barry (played by Timothy Bottoms, whose career has drifted a long way in the 50 or so years since he was starring in the Oscar-worthy likes of The Last Picture Show, The Paper Chase and Johnny Got His Gun) tries to get his sons Zach (played by writer/director Aaron Wolf) and Sebastian (Stuart Stone) and some employees to pack everything up. They are the only people in the building, other than a buxom accountant (Nicole Alexandra Shipley) and her assistant who are moving out of another office.

Suddenly the electricity goes out in the building. Then people start disappearing. And why is there tar everywhere?

Barry actually knows what is happening, because as a little boy, he and his father (Max Perlich) had fought off Matchi Manitou one fateful night decades before. Therefore Barry decides it is his responsibility to fight off the creature again, not even telling the others what is happening, because he is sure they wouldn’t believe him.

Well, one person believes, the crazy homeless guy from outside (Graham Greene) who turns out to have a history with Matchi Manitou as well, and not to be quite as insane as people originally think.

When Barry doesn’t seem to be coming back, in typical horror film fashion people go out alone or paired off trying to figure out what is happening. The bodies and the tar start piling up.

Now, this would seem awfully silly if it were taken too seriously, but Tar always keeps its tongue in its cheek. It plays fast and loose with its thriller moves, always facing the audience with a wink and a nudge. You can usually tell who is going to live and who is going to die, usually when and why (and at least one of them honestly kind of deserves to be killed).

It’s not exactly good, but it’s not really trying to be. It just wants to be a drive-in b-movie comic thriller, and with the new COVID world, drive-in fare is at a bit of a premium.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2020 All rights reserved. Posted: October 2, 2020.

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