It’s very difficult to get excited about found-footage in 2017. The sub-genre of horror has been giving diminishing returns as the years have gone by. Going into any found-footage horror expecting originality is a mistake. All you can hope for is a decent story with watchable characters.
Thankfully Altar gets that much right, at least once you get through the first 10 minutes.
Directed by Matthew Sconce & Starring Stefanie Estes, Brittany Falardeau, Jesse Parr & Deep Rai. Altar tells the story of a group of college friends heading to a reunion. Their car breaks down resulting in them having to spend the night in the woods of the Sierra Nevada mountains. It’s there that come across some kind of ancient altar, one that they end up disturbing, awakening something ancient & evil.
The movie opens showing a couple having been married & returning back to their hotel room. The pair later head out on a hike (even after being warned away from it by an unsettling man) & end up coming across a load of dead bodies surrounding an altar. They are chased down by the man who warned them before & killed with an axe.
This intro, while action-packed is a rough start as the actors are bland, the setting all too familiar & the usual found footage issues present. Poor visual quality & uninteresting sequences don’t exactly give much hope for the remainder of the movie. However, it does improve greatly.
Maisy (Stefanie Estes) & her brother Bo (Jesse Parr) meet up with the rest of her friends on route to the college reunion. Bo suffers from Asperger’s syndrome (something he portrays well) & is nervous about joining them but Maisy is insistent, hoping it will help him.
Bo is the cameraman for the majority of the movie. This is excellently explained as a way for him to feel safe hidden behind the camera.
The group set off in two cars where we get to know the characters in a natural & realistic way. At first the constant chatter can be quite jarring but it’s believable as these guys haven’t seen each other for a while.
One of the cars breaks down forcing the group inside to camp for the night. It’s here, while exploring, that they come across the same altar seen in the opening scenes. An eerie looking thing & once disturbed unleashes an evil that no-one could have expected.
The monster is kept shrouded in darkness for most of the movie, even at the end only allowing fleeting shots that leave you guessing. By the end not much is explained, the altar remains a mystery & how it effects the group, unclear.
For the most part Altar avoids many of the pitfalls that surround found-footage but on occasion it does slip into cliched territory. One character in particular goes from being an alright kind of guy into a bit of a bully (jumping out & scaring Bo, stealing his camera). It’s disappointing as the closeness shown amongst the group was interesting & far more enjoyable to watch.
The film doesn’t have much in the way of scares but the final 15 minutes or so up the tension & it was nice to see it avoid a lot of the obvious jump scare moments. Proving that you can make a found footage horror without it always being predictable.
The best thing about Altar is the acting. Stefanie Estes is great in her role, her constant concern for Bo’s well-being coming across sincere. While Jesse Parr portrays an Asperger’s sufferer really well (even if he does get a little irritating at times).
A really strong showing for a sub-genre of horror that seemed to have done everything possible. Maybe there’s more life in found footage yet?