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By Steve Anderson | January 3, 2006

Ever been in the mood to spend an hour and twenty minutes of your life in utter confusion? Drain the Cronenberg section dry at your neighborhood video store? Then “Tartarus” may be just the fix you’re looking for.

So what we have here is a fellow named John on the run. From what, we’re not sure. To where, well, no one’s all that sure either. But we DO know that there’s plenty of nasty stuff after John.

The positively stirring part about “Tartarus” is that it’s pretty much a one-man show, with some solid help from the supporting cast. Juan Fernandez is pretty much all by his onesies on this one, and the man is GOOD. He conveys a sense of fear and terror at his unknown surroundings and pursuers in a truly classic sense.

Frankly, Fernandez’s performance actually makes me believe something’s after him, and this belief really helps when the obviously-CG alien ships show up and start chasing him.

I don’t know what the deal is with the sequence at the four minute mark…a supporting character named Angie steps in with her car. We know her name is Angie because she actually says as much to John. And frankly, this is a pretty preposterous setup. From sheer believability, I can’t believe someone would ever stop and introduce themselves to a guy pounding on their car window.

And yet, at the same time, we start finding out more about John. What we find out isn’t pleasant. The manner in which we find out about John is what’s impressive. It’s almost like a morality play of sorts, as John is pursued by the…well…whatever they are, and the secrets of his past revealed in technologically-induced flashbacks.

In a really sad, strange sort of way, watching what John’s life was like before he wound up where he spends most of the movie is almost comical. The flashbacks get progressively worse until we begin to wonder what NEW shameful, odious thing John will come up with to do. I found myself shouting at the screen, almost in tune with the events. “Oh look, he’s got the CRACK PIPE! What’s next, John, you gonna kill a guy? Oh, there! YOU DID! And WHILE DRINKING, too! What’s next, John, fire at the Home for Widows and Orphans? You gonna eat a baby?”

There are some who will say that “Tartarus” is one giant representation of the Catholic gestalt–with suffering making you somehow “worthy” of salvation–and they probably wouldn’t be far off. It’s almost an advanced version of a morality play, with a lot of extra force behind it.

And I swear they got product placement money from Seagrams. There’s a bottle of Seagrams something-or-other in frame every twenty minutes or so.

The ending has almost nothing to do with the rest of the movie. Genuinely. They spent an hour on this rambling salvation discourse and then turned into a minor-grade horror movie. Perhaps the worst part about it is that it raises so many more questions than it actually answers.

All in all, “Tartarus” is a strange little film that’s long on weird, short on logic, and really hard to make a valid conclusion on. Maybe you’ll enjoy it. I’m not all that sure what to make of it myself.

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