Sacrifices will be made at the ‘Altar’

In the heart of the Sierra National Forest someone, or something, lurks in the dark.

Six friends on an innocent trip to a college reunion, after passing through the Valley and Mountain Area including Oakhurst, Bass Lake, and North Fork, become lost in Beasore Meadow. They assume everything is okay; that they are safe.

Until they discover the “Altar,” where they accidentally unleash the dark shrine’s horror and find themselves fighting to survive.

Matt Sconce, founder of Movie Heroes which owns Met Cinema in Oakhurst, hopes audiences enjoy the scares of “Altar,” his third feature film that he wrote, directed, and produced.

Sconce said the found footage horror film - where events are from a character’s perspective usually using a videocamera - is an inspiration from his favorites in that style including “The Blair Witch Project” (1999) and “Willow Creek” (2013).

“You want to tell a really awesome story that people can connect with,” said Sconce, whose other films include “Stricken” (2010) and “Firefall: An Epic Family Adventure” (2012). “And with ‘Altar,’ I feel like it’s a breath of fresh air in the midst of a lot of cookie cutter horror films, because people are going to watch it and be connected to the characters.”

To build that connection, Sconce said he focused on an organic process by allowing his cast to improvise, with very few retakes, as they absorbed the tense experience of mountain lions, bears, and raucous storms while filming for five days.

“Imagine arriving in the mountains with no cell phone reception or anything, then you walk a half mile to the location, and get hit by a thunderstorm,” Sconce said. “Then we realize some of the tents leak so everybody was soaked and freezing ... but it all was part of the method, and the actors we chose are 100% dedicated to their characters and took it into their roles.”

The cast includes, in his debut, 2014 Minarets High School graduate Jesse Parr who agreed the environment played a key part of the film.

“It reset my biological clock,” Parr laughed. “It was amazing, and it really adds to the realism of it because we’re responding to all these potentially scary things out there. We’re thinking about what we would do in each situation ... one time we finished a scene and all us actors were sitting around the campfire with our backs against each other because we were so focused on everything around us.”

Parr, pursuing a degree in teaching theater while attending Fresno City College, plays Bo Marks, a young man with Asperger’s Syndrome who films the group’s trip as a way of coping with the disorder. He is vigorously protected by older sister and main lead Maisy Marks (Stefanie Estes).

Other members of the six main cast include Brittany Falardeau as Chelsea Rich, Tim Parrish as Asher James, Deep Rai as Ravi Dara, and Ancilla deValmont in her debut as Pamela Kensington.

Sconce said a release date hasn’t been set, but “Altar” will be out on DVD, Blu-ray, and digital format sometime this year. Plans also include showing the film at Met Cinema, and possibly at theaters throughout the country.

And though he wouldn’t provide spoilers, Sconce said audiences should expect excellent scares as well as a unique supernatural element and a decidedly surprising end.

“They should be prepared for twists, turns, and surprises along the way,” Sconce said. “It’s a mystery. It’s a whodunnit, and I think it will surprise everybody. I don’t think anybody is going to know what’s coming.”

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