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Monday, July 3, 2017

ALTAR -- Movie Review by Porfle

Do people still compare all these new "found footage" movies to THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT?  Or has the genre become so common that hardly anyone even thinks to do that anymore? 

At any rate, ALTAR (2016) is the latest example I've seen of a filmmaking style which must be attractive to young, low-budget filmmakers because it allows them to dispense with the usual production values in order to intentionally make their film look like a home movie. 

This is either very effective in a raw, visceral, haunting way (as in BLAIR WITCH or another one of my all-time favorites, ATROCIOUS), or merely an affectation that becomes tiresome if not handled well. 

ALTAR falls somewhere in between, leaning toward "tiresome" during the first hour when most of it (save for a terrific opening sequence lasting about eight minutes) turns out to be buildup consisting of us watching an SUV full of old college buddies headed into the mountains for some camping but getting lost along the way.

When their SUV overheats and they have to park briefly by the side of the road, there's one unsettling moment when a scary-looking guy with an axe pulls up and behaves in an intimidating manner.  He introduces himself as "Ripper" and we know we'll see him again. 

But that won't be for awhile, at least until several more minutes of our not-too-bright protagonists blundering around getting lost and having to set up camp in an unknown part of the wilderness.

They're quite a crew, too: mischievous high school teacher Asher (Tim Parrish) and his ditzy teenaged girlfriend and former student Pam (Ancilla deValmont), independent loner girl Chelsea (Brittany Falardeau), SUV driver Ravi (Deep Rai), and the girl he always had a crush on, Maisy (Stefanie Estes). 

Maisy, however, has her mind on her mousey brother Bo (Jesse Parr), a painfully insecure jumble of emotional and behavioral problems whom she hopes will benefit from the social interaction and fun camping experience.

Bo's main method of distancing himself from the world is to keep a camera between it and him, hence the "found footage" angle--he photographs almost literally everything that happens during the outing. 

Which, as stated, amounts to not much until finally the group decide to wander off into the dark woods in the middle of the night to "explore" and stumble across a strange altar decorated with glowing blue stones and human skulls. 

This is just the beginning of a series of bizarre and eventually lethal encounters between them and whatever malevolent people--or beings--are stalking them through the foreboding forest (and which, in some of the film's best moments, are captured at the edges of Bo's viewfinder just barely visible in the dark).

Upon reaching this point, ALTAR finally takes off and becomes a pretty fun movie to watch.  That is, if you stop expecting any of these characters to behave like normal, rational people.  In fact, it's necessary to let go of any such qualms and simply observe this gaggle of hysterical morons running around the woods like chickens with their heads cut off as the cast engage in some really bad ensemble improv acting. 

Once the viewer has adjusted accordingly, the story becomes sort of a fun comedy of errors dotted with bloody murders and a few surprises, getting more frenetic and jarringly improbable as it unfolds and the whole thing rushes headlong toward an all-out "anything goes" finale. 

My hopes for ALTAR being a solid, serious horror film began to deflate the more I watched it, but darn if the thing didn't end up getting pumped so full of hot air before it was over that it blew itself right back up again.  It ends not with a bang but with a satisfying "pop", as though we just had a fun horror party and now it's time for ice cream and cake. 

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