Nick Willing’s Altar

◦ There’s a few spooky touches in Altar and a handful of well orchestrated scenes that are fun but for the most part this is a murky, depressing slog through the well travelled “American family moves into a creaky old British manor that is clearly haunted’ sub-genre that I’m sure by now any seasoned horror fan can tick off the narrative beats of in their sleep. Matthew Modine and Olivia Williams are an artist couple who take up residence in a country house with a sordid past that comes back to claim their souls and their sanity, starting with Modine’s husband who gradually begins to act very very strange. Now, there’s two scenes that are genuinely great: their daughter (Antonia Clarke), who seems to be the only one in the family with any sense in her head, is spectacularly haunted by a female ghost that crawls into her bed one night, sits beside her and looks her *right* in the eyes. Most horror films would use gruesome prosthetics, moonlit contact lenses and fake blood for this but the film chooses to view this spirit through a sort of ‘fragmented mirror kaleidoscope prism’ veil that is like shifting broken glass come to life and I thought it was just so cool. There’s another terrific scene where Modine and Williams mesmerically unearth a sort of ritualistic mural depicting sacrifice beneath their home that is just wonderfully edited and set to a piece of the score that stuck with me and is a sequence of true power and dynamism. That’s all the film musters that grabbed me though, and I was frustrated by the fact that Williams’s as the wife and mother consistently and flagrantly made shitty decisions to the point where I was yelling at her through the screen. At least Modine had an excuse because he was already under the influences of dark spirits. Only the daughter acted with rationality, logic and seemed to want to get out of there and, ironically, no one listens to her. This is a good time waster and it does shine in those two instances I described unfortunately it doesn’t do too much of anything else we haven’t seen before.

-Nate Hill

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