Altar (2014)

I think Netflix was invented to distribute mediocre movies to the masses. Altar is one such movie.

Starring Matthew Modine and Olivia Williams the premise seems promising enough; a family of four moves to an estate in the English countryside so the wife can restore it to its previous glory for an absentee owner. Obviously the house is haunted and the family has issues, namely the husband is an artist. Artists; so tortured, so disturbed. Also, Olivia Williams’ character has a weird penis-shaped haircut that is really distracting.

I watched this despite the low 3/5 Netflix rating because it looked spooky and Matthew Modine. C’mon, Full Metal Jacket! Okay, so it could be that my Matthew Modine references are a trifle out of date. But still, Full Metal Jacket!

The plot doesn’t delve deeply enough into the obviously tense relationship between the wife and husband. The wife is supporting the family financially with her restoration work and is concerned with her growing reputation (one of the reasons she ignores her daughter’s ghost sighting). The husband, almost upon arrival, locks himself away in his new studio space to work on his art as a way of distancing himself from his wife’s burgeoning success and the demands of his children. I think there is a real missed opportunity in telling this story—if there was more focus on developing the psychological isolation and the power dynamic between the wife and husband then the later scenes of rape and possession wouldn’t seem so hackneyed and trite.

Needless to say, Altar is no Full Metal Jacket. From the shaky—was this filmed on an iPhone?—scene when the family first drives up to the house, to the badly generated computer art masquerading as a painting (really?!), this movie is full of missteps that today’s sophisticated viewer will not be able to ignore. There is also the weird blood-makes-sculpure-better thing that Modine’s character gets into that kind of grosses me out.

I wanted an atmospheric and spooky mystery with some elements of horror. Turns out I got a bad version of The Skeleton Key. And that’s saying a lot.

I watched this so you don’t have to.

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