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Supernatural Thiller THE ATONING Hits (Most of) the Genre Sweet Spots

[All images courtesy Gravitas Ventures]

The Atoning
Written and Directed by Michael Williams
89min, unrated
Shendopen Productions
Copyright 2017

Poor Sam.

He just wants to sleep in and not think about what day it is.

Oddly enough, every morning he wonders what day it is.

And why he can’t go outside.

Sam isn’t going to like the answers to his questions.

The Atoning begins like a weird, solemn family drama with plenty of unspoken secrets, cryptic comments, and meaningful glances. As the movie progresses, Sam, mom Vera, and distant dad Ray realize (along with the viewer) that he has a lot more to worry about than being cooped up inside.

As this family grows more and more unnerved by their situation (along with their inability to understand or escape it), so do we. Answers, when they come, only set them down an even darker path.

Sam may be  the only kid in America who WANTS to go back to school.

The Atoning delivers on most of the elements a horror movie needs to succeed, even if it falls short a bit in putting them all together at the end. It blends suspense, setting, effects and story to pull the audience into this family drama. The pace is deliberate, but never boring; it’s a pleasure to see a movie taking it’s time to create very small, specific world, then using every detail of that world to build tension to a breaking point.

Hats off to writer/director/cinematographer/editor Michael Williams, especially for his masterful use of negative space. Every time Sam peered into a tiny closet to see who (or what) kept tossing toys out, or Vera dumped a painting that wouldn’t stay put back in the attic, I was nervously scanning every bit of the scene, anticipating – and dreading-  what might appear out of the darkness.

Once you see it, you can’t un-see it.

Props as well to set designer Cody Moore, costume and production designer Wendy Morgan, producer/actor Michael LaCourt and composer Keatzi Gunmoney.

In a haunted house movie, the house itself becomes a character (as in the Robert Wise classic The Haunting, or the Marsten House in Salem’s Lot). The house is certainly a character in The Atoning, but two particular features become focal points; a faucet that won’t stop dripping – and a front door that will not open.

Those old-timey doorknobs that won’t let you leave the house are the worst.

Young Cannon Bosarge (Sam) delivers a winning performance that draws you into the movie. Virginia Newcomb as Vera does a solid job as a mom who doesn’t understand her prison, but keeps her focus on her child. Dad (Michael LaCour) remains a cipher throughout the movie. His opaqueness seems partly a function of the story, since revelations regarding his character is the key to the family’s story.

But as I mentioned at the beginning of this review, all these great elements didn’t quite add up at the end for me, even though overall The Atoning drew me in and kept me involved until the end.

As a viewer I would’ve loved a bit more intertwining throughout the movie of the hints of why the family was trapped in the house. The hints given at the very beginning, along with other clues throughout the movie, didn’t quite connect with the final revelations to produce an ending with quite the impact I hoped for.

The menacing, mysterious characters played by Kyle Wiggington, Nikki Caruso, and Bryan Benfield do a fantastic job scaring the crap out of Ray, Vera, and Sam (and the audience); but I only understood more about their possible story significance after looking up their character’s names on IMDB. They were wonderfully created and acted, but knowing a bit more about WHY they were tormenting everyone beyond “we’re demons, that’s what we do (DUH)” would’ve brought the story to a whole new level at the finale.

The Atoning will be available September 5, 2017 on DVD, Blu-ray, iTunes, and Redbox. It’s a genuinely scary, well-crafted horror movie that made even an old time horror fan like me scared. Check it out.

The AtoningOfficial Website

2 thoughts on “Supernatural Thiller THE ATONING Hits (Most of) the Genre Sweet Spots

  • Sounds interesting. Is it a bit like “The Others”?

  • That’s not far from the mark, but I didn’t think it was an essential part of the story. The family backstory in interesting enough.


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