31 Days of Terror: Altered

by Jeff on March 11, 2010 · 0 comments

in Stuff I Like

Another classic review. Today, it’s Altered, a low-budget alien horror flick that’s a lot better than it needs to be. Consider this a good lead-in to tomorrow’s post on The Blair Witch Project.

It doesn’t seem like a smart idea to put ‘FROM THE DIRECTOR OF THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT‘ on the front of a box, because while we each have our own pet opinions about the film, nobody thinks it’s a triumph of directing. As a writer, however, Eduardo Sanchez has his strengths. He created the mythos surrounding the Blair Witch, and it was that mythos that gave the film whatever power it has the first time you see it. He created the characters in Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows, and as oft-maligned as that film is, the characters were empathetic and memorable enough that I still know their names and basic roles, despite not having seen the movie in years. That same skill for investing me in what he’s doing on-screen is present in Altered, too. What could have been a simple, jokey Undead clone about rednecks fightin’ aliens is a lot more. It’s a closed-room film about growing up, mourning, and repairing the damage we do to each other in our lives. In a lot of ways, it’s like The Big Chill, except with an alien strapped to a table.

That’s not to say it’s without awesome moments. When the film starts off with a plumber’s van full of heavily-armed hicks out gray-hunting, you’re doing something right. Especially when the most accident-prone of the bunch is hauling around a homemade harpoon gun that looks like the most badass thing this side of a space marine arsenal.

As the first person to complain when any kind of monster is any kind of disappointment, do not take it lightly when I say that the alien’s reveal is a masterwork of cinematic brinksmanship, and its first real appearance on-screen is handled nearly perfectly.

The big twist in the formula here, and it’s immensely satisfying, is that the heroes can’t kill the alien. Doing so has serious consequences. They’re perfectly capable of doing so, though, so the endgame of the movie is something of a roller-coaster ride, watching the dwindling number of protagonists pull their punches while trying as hard as they can to stay alive. It’s a great way to create tension and conflict, and it pads out the film without feeling artificial.

Altered has heart, and it’s a real surprise. It’s a competent creature feature that hooks you hard if you let it. It’s a low budget gore film that even much more expensive efforts have plenty to learn from, and you should probably give it a watch if you are a regular reader here.

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