THE ATONING: Predictable & Underwhelming

Atoning (2017) - source: Shendopen Productions

The Atoning is a daunting new thriller by writer/director Michael Williams, that stars Michael LaCour, Virgina Newcomb and Cannon Bosarge as an unfortunate family of three. In a haunted tale, the film starts out with a nightmare during a thunderstorm. Only, this nightmare isn’t a dream – it’s a memory.

Meet The Family

Vera (Newcomb) and Ray (LaCour) are unhappily married and seemingly stuck together for eternity, though they mostly avoid each other and don’t have a lot to say other than stressing the importance of keeping things hush-hush. Their interactions are awkward at best, with their son Sam (Bosarge) always trying to break the ice but never having much luck. They are stunted – as a family, as a unit.

Bosarge shows potential to grow as an actor, but the role of Sam appears to have been written for a child half his age. Sam is always confused, never seems to know what day it is and doesn’t seem to have a personality to speak of. There is no sign of any interest, hobbies, toys, pop icons or any such decorative items that indicate childhood around Sam’s character at all. He’s a lone child stuck in an adult nightmare.

THE ATONING: Predictable & Underwhelming
source: Shendopen Productions

There’s a leak in the kitchen and a painting that Vera keeps putting away in the attic, which keeps reappearing on the wall. Nothing gets resolved, it just keeps repeating, slowly but surely. It’s always the same day all over again with repetitive actions, with the same mishaps and struggles of not being able to fix what’s broken, things that don’t stay where they’re put, and doors which don’t open.

Predictable Plot

Is the house haunted? Are they haunted? These are the questions I first found myself asking, but anyone who has seen the 2001 Nicole Kidman movie The Others will immediately figure out the plot twist within the first fifteen minutes of the film. It was very predictable and felt like a modern day retelling of The Others with different details and characters. But it’s the same plot, same twist – nothing we haven’t already seen done; and done well. The Atoning is slow and drags on, never really picking up in pacing, even in what’s supposed to be the “thrilling” moments.

One of the most important creep factor elements in any horror or thriller film is the score. A creative soundscape adds to the buildup of suspense and is largely responsible for the audience’s emotional response. The sound effects and score were extremely underwhelming in the areas of suspense in The Atoning. Instead of leaving me on the edge of my seat, this film had me yawning for my pillows.

The otherworldly cohabitants of the home and the family start to become aware of each others’ presence and both become spooked by it. Sam thinks there’s a ghost in his room, a girl – he believes in her. But Sam is always confused and never even knows what day it is, so it’s no surprise he would mistake a demonic creature sent to force atonement of the souls as someone to play with.

You Can’t Fix Bad Acting In Postproduction

The writing and performances are so bad it begs the question; has this writer/director ever been around children? Sam’s (Bosarge) bedroom looks like a guest room with barren walls and absolutely no sign of a kid, preteen or teenager’s presence in the room other than the child sitting on his bed quietly playing by himself.

The film was wrought with poor casting choices and poor performances, save for the performance of Vera (Newcomb), which was by far the only somewhat believable character with potential as an actress to grow in her craft. But even her character was too passive to be fully believable.

THE ATONING: Predictable & Underwhelming
source: Shendopen Productions

Once Ray’s secret is exposed and all is revealed to the audience, it’s hard to believe that Vera (or any woman) would have remained so passive at being stuck with a monster who did what he did. Her reaction to his presence was too deadpan until the last five to ten minutes of the film, when she shows only the slightest bit of anger towards her husband who betrayed her and her protection over their son. The character appears to have no maternal instinct except for as an afterthought at the end.

There was no chemistry on screen between anyone in the cast. The seance scene in this film might notably be one of the worst to ever go down in film history. With over-the-top acting that belongs in an asylum theater to the underwhelming performances that seem like they’re not even trying by the supporting cast – this seance and chaos that came from it was lame.

The psychic medium, Charon (Dorothy Weems) was ridiculous. I’m not sure which was worse; the writing or the acting, but both were cringeworthy. The theme is if the soul doesn’t atone in life, it will be forced to atone in death – and that is the drama that plays out in the family before they can be freed of their nightmare.

All the inhabiters of the house are present for the seance and all hell breaks loose upon and between the family members as a result. Demonic creatures come out to play and force atonement, exposing dark secrets and unleashing chaos which ends with closure, which might be the film’s only saving grace.

Lights, Location, and Lameness

The entire film takes place in a house. For a low budget independent film, that’s always a wise choice; keep it simple with a small cast and one location. On a technical scope, the sound was a little low. There was no clever creativity in the camerawork and the lighting was as flat as the characters.

THE ATONING: Predictable & Underwhelming
source: Shendopen Productions

The entire film felt like it was dragging on while I waited with anticipation for anything to happen, make me jump or react in any way to what was happening on screen; but I had a hard time even caring about the characters.

The Atoning: Conclusion

The Atoning is unoriginal and underwhelming at every turn. Even the climatic moments are anti-climatic.
What are your thoughts on The Atoning?

The Atoning is now available on VOD and DVD.

Opinions expressed in our articles are those of the authors and not of the Film Inquiry magazine.
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Director/Writer/Producer at Starseed Pictures and host of the Miss Vision podcast, Jacqui Blue is a Los Angeles based artist and filmmaker with a background in writing and theater. www.jacquiblue.net