Starring Matthew Modine, Olivia Williams, Antonia Clarke
Directed by Nick Willing
Distributed by Cinedigm
Altar, starring Olivia Williams and Matthew Modine, attempts to capitalize on the recent success of a slew of other like-minded haunted house features that have actually made it into theaters as of late. The Gothic setting of Yorkshire, England, adds a substantial dose of eerie atmosphere, but the unfolding story within the walls of a decrepit mansion doesn’t live up to the foreboding surroundings.
Partially funded through Kickstarter, writer-director Nick Willing serviceably pieces Altar’s plot together, introducing the family Hamilton to their new estate where they can begin to start a new life as they rehabilitate the property from the ground up. Artist, husband, and father (in that order) Alec (Modine) begins his evil transformation seemingly right from the moment he crosses the threshold of their new home. His two children are neglected until they have no choice but to suspect something unthinkable has happened to their actual father – and maybe even their mother, too.
Wife Meg (Williams) tries her best to steer Alec back away from the harrowing heights of possession before he reaches the point of no return, but he falls deeper and deeper into his work – a sculpture that begins to look a lot like the dead woman terrorizing his daughter and running up to Meg’s bed at all hours of the night. Using his own blood to work the clay, Alec winds up being scarier than any other inhabitants trying to crawl back into the land of the living.
Going “poof” before any real scares sink in, the sequences that are supposed to make our skin crawl really only amount to a minor itch at best. Nick Willing’s previous work includes the Syfy specials “Tin Man,” “Alice,” and “Neverland”; but the fantastical elements that represented the best moments in those stories never effectively translate into the classic horror landscape of Altar. Instead, it really does feel like the dreaded made-for-TV movie, especially during scenes involving any interaction with the previous tenants who have now, sadly, passed on only to pester and provoke the Hamiltons.
Willing will return to Syfy with “Olympus,” writing and directing the first episode, a project that offers many more opportunities for ingenuity than the fairly pedestrian pace and predictable reveals found in Altar. The ending does, however, come to a hair-raising conclusion that shares some common ground with films like The Skeleton Key.
All in all, Altar probably should have relied on a few more tricks and some additional scenes of conflict between its two leads in order to have any real staying power.