Altar begins with newlyweds shooting a home movie in their honeymoon hotel. Their bliss looked like something out of a popular Instagram account for dream weddings, until of course, a truly depressing view from their balcony. The husband (Gregory Tharpe), dressed in post-coital bliss and a mere towel, answers a knock at the door of their hotel room to find a shady character in flannel warning him against a planned “Night Hike” set up by the recreational activities group of the hotel. True to form, the husband ignores this man and drags his wife to an unaccompanied and ill-fated hike through snowy woods. What they find there is the subject of this film’s plot, an enigmatic, murderous altar.
The “found footage” horror film is a tradition dating back to 1980 with Cannibal Holocaust (Dir. Ruggero Deodato), made famous by, of course, The Blair Witch Project (1999). Altar takes found footage to the Sierra Nevada Mountains with two recent high school graduates and a group of reuniting adults. The main characters consist of two siblings, Maisy (Stefanie Estes) and Bo (Jesse Parr), Maisy being the older of the two and the caretaker of Bo, a young, recovering high school graduate with a newfound interest in filmmaking. Bo is our cameraman, and leader into the suspense of the Sierra Nevada woods. His reluctance, disability, and honesty are a refreshingly genuine portrayal of a young man dealing with tragedy in this film.
The pair are naïve but honest characters, with an astonishing lack of sins that would render them deserving of the “scary movie” treatment. Maisy and Bo are characters you can invest in and root for in Altar, and fear not, its writer Matthew Sconce has also given us several characters to root against as well. Mr. Shady comes back when the reunion group arrives in the woods to give them the same warning the newlyweds received, and this time introduces himself as Ripper. If that isn’t a guy to bet money on, who is?
Without revealing too much of what Sconce has in store for you, I can say that his work leaves more to the imagination than what has become typical of horror in the modern day- a surprising touch found in maybe half of all found footage films. There are no spoon-fed answers in Altar, though there are quite a few ironic lines about “scary movies.”