Lured in by the somewhat outstanding artwork on the poster for this title I sat-down one fine Saturday evening looking forward to what I hoped to be an intriguing found-footage movie. What I got was a very middle of the road, somewhat tedious example of a film in the niche subgenre.
The film opens as a couple of newly-weds stumble upon an old alter in the woods, they are quickly slaughtered by a crazed man with an axe – who incidentally warned them not to go out for a walk that evening, talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy. Cut to the main characters, whom incidentally we will be seeing (and hearing) a lot of for the next hour, as they embark on a road trip which is predictably diverted and subsequently sabotaged in – yes you guessed it, the vicinity of ‘The Altar’. Here things do get a bit interesting, what is the altar there for, what does it want, and why do people keep dying near it?
All questions which will be answered in the great finale right at the end of the film, if of course you make it that far through…
If anybody should ask me what I consider my biggest criticism of the found footage genre would be it would be this, that there is nothing more irritating than watching a group of people trying to ‘act natural’ whilst being filmed 24/7, and frankly doing ‘normal’ things. It doesn’t make for stimulating viewing. Thankfully, there have been some film makers that have gotten round this pitfall very successfully by writing in a rationale (such as a documentary, news report etc) as to why every snippet of conversation must be captured. Sadly, ‘Altar’ does not…
Question: what is even more boring than being stuck in a car with people you don’t know, making cliched conversation and giving generic exposition as to who they are and why they are there?
Answer: Watching a video people stuck in a car making cliched conversation and giving generic exposition as to who they are and why they are there!
Indeed, for 50 minutes you can expect to sit through this before you get anywhere close to that engaging ending I mentioned in my opener. The characters aren’t bad, and neither is the acting – although I don’t think it will be winning any awards anytime soon, but they are simply having to make something from nothing. Outside of a couple of moments, they represent ordinary people doing ordinary things – although I did resent slightly the stating that the camera guy – a complete and utter wet lettuce – was as such because he was ‘borderline Asperger’s? Not typical symptoms and a little ignorant of the condition from my experience. Either way, that’s one hell of a time commitment to be made with very little given back.
When the ending (finally) comes around, it is indeed that ‘something different’ the film desperately needed to save it from a truly disastrous score. Credit where its due, the ending is pretty cool. Here the found-footage style aptly captures the panic and disorientation felt by the group as their trip which had gone from bad to worse begin to succumb to their fates. There is some decent gore, and here the jump scares hit their mark.
Overall, when asked about ‘The Alter’ prior to writing this review I have said this: If you can tolerate the extended dialogue sections (and I’m not exaggerating with regards to the 50-minute part) which seem to kick-off most microbudget FF movies, and/or enjoy reality TV then this film will probably resonate with you, and then the ending will be the icing on the cake. If, like me, you find too much inane dialogue a test of patience then I would probably pass on ‘Altar’, as the ending will come too little too late.