How TAG Uses Comedy And A Children’s Game To Create Suspense

It has a lot to do with brilliant performances by the whole cast.

Monkeys Fighting Robots

Tag takes a silly premise and turns it into something that not only warms your heart, but also puts you on the edge of your seat in suspense.

Based on a true story, a group of friends have been playing the same game of tag for 30 years. Every May, the game is on, and the gang will go to any lengths to ensure that they’re not “it” come June 1st. When one friend decides he’s going to retire with a perfect record, the remaining friends decide that they can’t let that happen. Again, this is based on a true story.

Tag is a movie that lives and dies by its actors. It’s all about their chemistry and their ability to make you believe they’ve been friends for so long. Luckily, their chemistry is brilliant, and they do just that. This isn’t a movie where a bunch of movie stars compete for screen time and try to outdo each other. These stars humbly blend and support each other.



Everyone here gives a performance worth talking about. The script is very good with a lot of solid jokes, but it’s the delivery that turns them into laugh-out-loud moments. Guys like Ed Helms, Hannibal Buress, and Jake Johnson all do their usual hilarious shtick, and their respective styles work together instead of clash. Even actors that don’t really classify as comedians – like Jeremy Renner or Jon Hamm – make you bust a gut. However, it’s Isla Fisher that steals the show as Helms’ wife. Her performance is so over-the-top intense that if I were to make a “Top 10 Moments of Tag” article, it’d just be a list of her scenes.

And therein lies the rub. Comedy is a direct line to an audience’s heart. It’s the fastest and easiest way to make you care about a character, or a group of characters. So when an entire cast is firing on all cylinders and making you laugh, it makes the movie that much more powerful, and your emotions watching it that much more intense.

Now, that works on two fronts. On the one hand, it makes the movie’s moral about friendship that much more meaningful and sweet. On the other, it creates a feeling of suspense for the characters’ well-being.

This is 100% true. There is a moment towards the end of Tag where one character goes in for a major tag. In the seconds building up to it, I felt tension in the pit of my stomach that I don’t feel during most horror movies. And I love horror movies.


That’s the most intense moment, but the movie is full of suspense like this. Which is silly, right? This is a movie about a children’s game being played by man-children (I can say that as a man-child myself). And yet you want them to succeed so badly – because you’ve come to care about them – that the stakes feel much higher.

Jeff Tomsic directs the hell out of this movie too. It’s not just a “point-and-shoot” approach that lets the dialogue supply all the humor. He does some really interesting things to generate humor in alternative ways, whether it’s a slow-mo Sherlock Holmes-esque sequence, or changing the cinematography to create a more “survival movie” tone for a scene in the woods. So while it’s the actors that bring this movie home, it’s Tomsic that sets them – and Tag – up to succeed.

Earlier this week, I declared Incredibles 2 as this weekend’s must-see movie, but now I’m not so sure. Play it safe and make it a double feature. Just send the kids home after Incredibles before heading into Tag.