Evil Lurks in the Woods. You’ve Been Warned! “Altar” review!

Maisy and her socially reclusive brother, Bo, venture on a mountain getaway trip with Maisy’s former college friends. With Bo documenting with a handheld video camera as part of his way in comforting his anxiety, he captures the dynamic of how each of Maisy’s friends have changed over years, especially with Asher and his recently High School graduated girlfriend, Pam. After breaking down on the side of the road, falling behind the rest of the caravan, they encounter a strange man with an axe, harshly warning them to not continue up the mountain pass. Shrugging of the warning and returning to their now working vehicle, the group resumes their drive, but makes a wrong turn and becomes lost in the mountains’ thicket of the Sierra Nevada. They decide to setup camp for the night and continue their way back the next morning, but the discovery an ominous, skull-riddled altar in the woods unleashes a frightening presence that won’t allow them to leave. As tensions rise and night falls, Bo keeps his camera running as a soul inhabiting evil has fallen upon them that seeks to destroy them one-by-one.

“Altar” is the 2016 found footage horror from writer-director Matthew Sconce. Sconce is actually able to harness a fraction of the mysticism and presence that made the found footage genre a thing back in 1999 with the ground breaking flick “The Blair Witch Project” and does a well enough job implementing it into his very own version of an allusive satanic cult ghoul, but with more specials effects and screen time. Despite being titled “Altar,” the story barely wraps itself around the titular object with only a handful of brief scenes, one of the scenes being the thinly-connected introduction that intensely catches the attention, while mostly focusing on the friends’ road trip chatter, breathtaking scenic gasps, and becoming lost on the mountain without much peril in-between. Even the creature, whom makes the scene approximately the last 10 minutes, has more of a presence than the altar itself.

The plot follows around Maisy Marks and her Aspergers labeled brother, Bo Marks, played by Stefanie Estes and Jesse Parr who pull off the socially awkward brother and the cutesy overprotective sister well enough to pass muster. Maisy’s other “beau” is Ravi, played by Deep Rai, and along for the ride as well is muscle head Asher, Tim Parrish, and his ditzy, teenage girlfriend, Pam, played by Jessica Strand. Rounding off the group is Chelsea, a communications graduate who could only find work as a bartender who seems to be stuck in life, and she’s catered to by Brittany Falardeau. Michael Wainwright, Tina Johnson, Master Dave Johnson, and Catherine Wilcox make up the rest of the cast. As a whole, the acting wasn’t terrible even if the script was conventionally kitschy and with a group of young actors, I’m fairly encouraged to see more of their work.

However, acting is only a third of the battle when critiquing a film and “Altar” has falters more in it’s own story and script that’s peppered with cliche after cliche. The scenes leading up to the mayhem constantly hyped that something bad is going to happen; Bo finds an online article of two newlyweds missing for six months (part of the introduction), characters kept comparing their scenarios like horror films, or a daunting man, named Ripper, sternly warns them with a very large axe in his hand. Moments like these try to build tension, but when overtly and grossly laid out for views, sustaining the substance behind them is lost and waters down the effect toward campy foreshadowing. Special effects weren’t overly cinematic nor where they similar to video nasties and kept simple, much like “The Blair Witch Project, with a little more padding to them. The Evil Spirit, as it’s credited in the film and portrayed by Nicole Osborne, is a black and white nightmare that’s effective on camera; slightly cheesy with a hint of gooeyness, but edited in nice and sporadically for those eye-clenching jump scares.

Production company Movie Hero Studios partners with Distribber for a VOD nationwide release of Matthew Sconce’s “Altar,” including platforms such as iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Xbox, PlayStation Network, and on Hulu. A DVD-R screener was provided and so commenting on video and audio quality will not be critiqued and there were no extras on the reviewed disc. “Altar” is, disappointingly, just another found footage casualty with hasty slivers of hope of not falling into the muck that has become an over-tapped genre. What Sconce has done with “Altar” makes the film enjoyable enough for a single viewing with little-to-no repeat value as everything lays out in the open and the only subtly in the entire film is the altar itself.

Watch “Altar” on Amazon.com!

Restoring Creepy Evil to the Indie Movement! “The Haunting of Radcliffe House” review!


Meg and Alec Hamilton and their two young children trek out to the English countryside of Yorkshire to inhabit an old mansion to restore to originality for an oversea’s buyer. Unbeknownst to the family, the previous owner has a deadly reputation that involves the occult and the murder of his wife. When Meg stumbles upon a secret room, strange events emerge that strike to tear the family apart and intend to start things over again…from the beginning.
“The Haunting of Radcliffe House,” also known as “Altar,” is nothing new, but the story compels an audience and will tack on decent chills and thrills that will sure to entertainment. However, the Nick Willing TV-directed movie screams to be heavily borrowed from more essential works such as The Shining and The Amityville Horror where the father becomes almost possessed and blood thirsty. Memphis Belle actor Matthew Modine tackles the said father who draws motivation from blank stares that turn full blown possessed. Modine has always impressed on to me as being the relaxed actor to character, but there lies some aggression that was being held back in his previous works and was a sure sign of relief to see something new from Modine.
The Sixth Sense actress Olivia Williams is the counterpart to Modine’s character. Her Meg Hamilton is a tough, independent woman whose hellbent on restoring this house no matter the oddities that pop up around her. Williams fits the role well being the calm head before the storm and with Alec, Modine’s character, almost completely out the picture from being overcome by the house’s allure, the film surrounds around mainly Meg Hamilton and becomes the Meg show.
Even though London born writer-director Nick Willing has a resume mostly compiled of made for TV credits, I’ve seen impressive gloomy and brooding shots from the director that most horror entrenched directors can’t accomplish. Some of the camera worked used and the edited instrumented create effective scares even if the scares kind of come off confusing within the story. The special effects by Ben Ashmore and his team can be put up against the best TV movies.
I mentioned before that some of story doesn’t jive with the plot. There are instances where random ghosts emerge who are not prevalent to the house’s backstory, but these scenes were creepy enough to keep one glued to the screen. The whole meat of the story surrounds a room that has a explanation to it’s use but the device, a large spike suspended above a person as some sort of occult relic, is hung, suspended above a person but we’re no privy to the purpose behind this object. The object drips, what I suspect, is blood and acts as a sort of seeping device, seeping one soul into another through the droplets of blood. Blood becomes a motif especially with Alec and his blood becomes a part of the house and in turn starts to overtake his soul but this is just speculation.
The “The Haunting of Radcliffe House” might not have a hip title, but rather has a overused title, and might not be a new flavor of horror ready to set the world on fire, but the potential for a good scare is shared. There is an appreciation for the minimalistic CGI special effects used and an another appreciation for the beautifully shot moments that stand out amongst the gapped plot. Nick Willing’s film might not be the most flawless piece of work, yet we’re seeing a glimpse from a director who doesn’t have much experience in the horror genre and he brings his melodrama, and a little bit of comedy with the unconventional “ghost whisperer,” take on his a solid ghost story.