Starring Stefanie Estes, Brittany Falardeau, Deep Rai and Jessica Strand
Written and Directed by Matthew Sconce
“ALTAR is the terrifying story of a group of former college classmates who get lost driving to a college reunion camp out in the Sierra Nevada mountains. After stopping for the night, they stumble onto something much darker. They must battle to escape the evil they unleashed to not only save their own lives but their souls as well.”
I’ve watched so many found footage horror movies at this point that I kind of want to know what attracts filmmakers to the format. It’s not like they have a particularly good reputation now with critics and audiences, and the big hitters like Blair Witch and Paranormal Activity feel like an age ago now. I’m honestly curious, because the amount of found footage movies in recent years that have found a real genuine reason to be made in such a way is very small. Most of the time it just seems to be an excuse by a filmmaker to get away with dodgy camerawork and sound. As if it excuses a lack of skill or talent. Which it absolutely doesn’t. Because if the story isn’t still told right in the edit, and if the performances aren’t even more believable than in a traditionally shot movie, then the audiences attention has already jumped ship. Truth is, it takes real skill and passion and filmmaking prowess to make a good found footage movie.
Which brings me to Altar. Which, to my surprise, was actually a very cool found footage horror!
All those complaints in my little rant? Well, it seems Matthew Sconce has the same, and sought to avoid them all here. The camerawork is coherent while still convincingly “found”, the sound is effective and the acting is mostly very engaging. And you know what, it’s actually pretty scary occasionally. We can’t forget that!
As you can probably tell from the plot description, the storyline for Altar doesn’t offer anything in the way of originality but the ace up its sleeve is the characters and actors. The lead siblings Maisy (Estes) and Bo (Parr) are incredibly engaging. Complete opposites, with Maisy outgoing and spirited and Bo introverted and suffering from crippling anxiety and shyness, they nonetheless have an incredible bond that is not something you see many genre films even attempt to develop. Not only that, but Bo’s characterisation is what justifies the found footage format, with the camera being a kind of protective barrier for the aspiring filmmaker. The rest of the cast do well too, each character transcending stereotypes and it’s a pleasure to see.
Once the horror does kick off (and it admittedly does take a while) the film is in a race to get to the finish line which I really did not mind. It felt very well-structured as the films emphasis is much more on characterisation. There’s a few great jump scares and some fantastic tension, but in terms of violence, due to the ambiguous nature of the threat it’s all a bit PG 13. Also, the production values in one pivotal scene kind of give away the budget, with a plastic-looking set that really draws attention to itself when it should be creating fear.
But all this can be forgiven. Altar is a slow build chiller that gets away with it because those slow moments are filled with characters you’re interested in spending time with.