Directed by: Matthew Sconce
Cast: Stefanie Estes, Brittany Falardeau, Jessica Strand, Tim Parrish and Jesse Parr
I think that the majority of genre fans, even those who love found footage features, are growing a little weary with the absurd inundation we face from the sub-genre. I review a lot of films, and I’d bet that somewhere between 40% and 50% are found footage. It’s getting old, and it’s far beyond the point of just crossing the fingers and hoping for the best. There’s absolutely no consistency here, and that makes for a challenge when it comes time to tune into a new flick like Altar. Will it work? Will it stink? Will we see even a shred of decency… or is it just another disposable flick?
Matthew Sconce crafts a tale that follows a handful of old college buddies reuniting for a weekend camping trip. Right out of the gate the group runs into trouble. First, Ravi’s car breaks down, and then creeper of the decade, Ripper shows up, wielding a rather intimidating ax. It’s an awkward moment, and viewers will no doubt anticipate some early bloodshed, but there’s a different design to this film, and Ripper is eventually left in the dust of Ravi’s SUV once it’s cooled down and started again. But that doesn’t change the fact that this group quickly find themselves lost. Fortunately, they stumble upon a friendly face and find a comfortable spot to camp for the evening.
And then things take a brutal turn.
While exploring the wooded area in the middle of the night, the group stumbles upon a strange altar. The glowing blue objects surrounding the altar are weird enough, but it gets exceptionally creepy when a skull – mounted on the altar, begins to bleed from every orifice. This group is wise enough to put as much distance between the altar and themselves. Sadly, it won’t do much to save them.
I’ve got to draw the line right there to avoid spoilers, but I can confidently tell you that we get some well-executed scares in the minutes that follow. And, you’re probably safe to assume that a whole lot of bloodshed is about to saturate their campsite.
Altar has a few technical problems, and a few story points that don’t make a wealth of sense, and unfortunately are never explained. But mishaps aside, there’s a lot here to enjoy. The group is extremely diverse, and unlike films like Chainsaw 3D, which features a handful of characters so profoundly different it feels entirely implausible that they’d be friends, let alone head out on a trip together, the chemistry between this particular group is believable and relatively organic. That quality should immediately work to draw viewers in.
The performances are strong, and outside those few scratch-your-head moments, the story works pretty damn well. I can’t tell you that the production is a flawless piece, but I can assure you that the different personalities feel far more interesting than the bulk of ensembles that (dis)grace so many other found footage pieces, and I can assure you that the pace of the film leaves no time to battle boredom.
I’m quite tempted to march forward into spoiler territory, but I can’t bring myself to do it. You need to experience the characters, and you need to experience their eventually harrowing plight. The gore in the film is controlled, so much so in fact that this is a picture that could easily draw a PG-13 rating. And, were that the case, you’d be looking at a pretty solid PG-13 piece; the gore is never genuinely gratuitous, there’s virtually no nudity, and the death scenes aren’t exactly up-close-and-personal. It’s a controlled, somewhat tame film that works more often than not.
Don’t seek out Altar hoping for a wildly original found footage piece. Rather, head into this viewing experience with measured hope and an understanding that it isn’t a game changer so much as a terrific beer drinking flick!