Review: Altar (2016)


Matthew Sconce, director and writer of Altar, presents a found footage, now before you roll your eyes and groan, this time he adds a twist, by including the mixture of the slasher genre complete with doomsayer similar to that in The Birds (1963) and of course, Crazy Ralph from Friday the 13th (1980). However, Sconce delivers a few scares and creates a necessary reasoning for the usage of the camera as a constant in the film, rather than just another means to film a story, resulting in numerous awards.

The film, does avoid some of the mistakes (as I referred to them, with this subgenre, i.e. the go-pro cameras and music during suspenseful moments), rather tries to combine both a supernatural narrative story with the found footage, the success results in a fair production. It all begins with a strange opening sequence, which feels more as tacked on, as it never really fits into the main story, aside from the doomsayer character called Ripper. The audience meets a newlywed couple who instead of doing what honeymooners do at night, they venture out for midnight stroll in freezing temps and snow, before sighting glowing blue lights and horror, fret not it all lasts about 5 to 7-minutes, and then rolls opening credits. This introduction feels more misplaced and never truly hooks the audience quite correctly as it appears disjointed to the rest of the film.

The actual movie starts with the biggest jump cut possible where we meet Bo (Jesse Parr) and his older sister Maisy (Stefanie Estes) as they prepare for a camping trip, quickly anyone can recognize there’s something different about Bo. Sadly, Sconce can’t hide the importance of Bo’s role in the film, and telegraphs that to the audience, with his anxiety and Asperger’s Syndrome, he definitely becomes a key figure. Parr and Estes do early on show a wonderful bickering sibling love, and the Maisy character presents herself as the protector for him and his issue. In addition, because of Bo’s disability shows the reason of constantly needing to film in the movie, and thereby getting around one of the key troubling spots in found footage films (why are they always filming). As for the camping trip, a crowd of friends, gathering for it, and hence the hinting to the slasher genre, Ravi (Deep Rai), Chelsea (Brittany Falardeau), Asher (Tim Parrish) and Pam (Jessica Strand), all head for a long distance drive. Along the way the group encounters both an overheated engine and the Ripper (Michael Wainwright) who approaches carrying an ax, and spouting some very odd babble, but as quickly as the scene starts it all ends without incident, squandering more Wainwright’s character.

Soon enough the gang becomes lost in the woods, without cell service but find the happiest campers ever, Dave and Stephanie (portrayed by Master Dave Johnson and Catherine Wilcox) who invite them to deluxe camping. The entire time Maisy’s friends belittle Bo the aspiring filmmaker, who constantly films and never suffers from low-battery issues or other technical limitations. All filmmakers must wonder where they get these never dying cameras with endless data room, but alas, the film keeps a quick pace, and yet times a stiff structure, showing the audience weirdness but never exploring it fully. This reviewer won’t dive too far into the altar description as to avoid spoilers however, to state it gives a creepy appearance, aside the usage of blue lights, although nothing in the film truly gives a identity to the reason of its existence aside from learning it contains the summoning power to possess someone in the group… I wonder who?

The bloodshed does occur, in the third act, and leads to Friday the 13th meets Paranormal Activity, complete with mayhem, and loads of horror clichés, including wondering in the woods at night, always a bright concept in characters. Bo’s Asperger’s becomes the focal point of the camera direction, and yet clearly providing the understanding not a good cinematography, which goes against the disorder of wanting perfection, however as a character he shows ample frustration to social interactions.

Overall, the production runs smooth, and uses the natural elements of the woods and weather to their advantages, but a few story points will leave one baffled at the end of the movie. As the killing does start, it leaves boxes unchecked for gore-hounds, major lack of on-screen killing, one sees the victim but not the actual scene, not much viciousness. The characters fit the normal stereotypical ones from slasher movies, Parr and Estes carry the film. As for the technical aspects delivered on solid level, which is strange as it is supposedly a found footage film, not a professional shoot, the limited viewfinder shots at night give a good assist, but lack quality jump scares.

Altar tries to combine too many elements, and pulls off a film, a tad too efficient, after all found footage movies, need imperfections, and ends too abruptly leaving an understanding for the closure, even if just random images or mumblings from a character. Sconce gives a slow build up, but foreshadows too much too often, all involving the character of Bo, which some might find offensive. While horror movies provoke and push boundaries and invade one’s safety zone, it needs to distract from obvious cues and return to a more savagery brutality.

IMDb Rating: 4.1/10

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About Baron Craze 33 Articles
Consider by many as a Horror Historian, writing detail reviews on many sites, with the first horror I ever saw was Grizzly (1976), from there I discovered Vincent Price and Christopher Lee movies, and of course Universal Monsters. I never watch the films just once, no rather multiple times, as I got older become both a completeist (the goal to watch all the horror films possible) and started to research many films to new depths of interest. Many of my reviews contain vast amounts of details about each film, in a fair review. In addition, a screenwriter and actor and producer of Blind Documentary, called A World Without Boundaries, and podcast DJ of 4 weekly shows 2 metal and 2 horror theme. Enjoy all things Horror, Gothic, and Macabre. Favorite Quote of Mine: "The Extreme Makes a Lasting Impression!"