New Horror Releases: The Atoning (2017) Reviewed


The Atoning is an effectively slow-paced, atmospheric, supernatural thriller. The entire film takes place in a house inhabited by Vera (Virginia Newcomb), Ray (Michael LaCour) and their young son Sam (Cannon Bosarge). Right from the beginning it is apparent that something is wrong between the parents. Ray appears distant and it almost seems like Vera is parenting Sam by herself. All three of them seem somewhat on edge. Then, strange things begin happening in the house. What is going on in that house? What is the meaning of the creepy dreams the three of them are having? And what is going on between Vera and Ray?

These questions are answered in a film that maintains an ominous feel without ever tilting over into outright horror. There is no violence or gore, but it is still successful at building tension. The mood is helped by the cinematography which keeps certain things in the background just enough so you’re not sure what is really there. The editing is also very effective. Shots are kept long enough to imply possible answers, but not kept so long that the answers become obvious. I will say, I was pretty sure I knew where the movie was headed after about fifteen minutes. While it did go there, it was in a way I did not expect. And then it kept going. The Atoning becomes a much deeper film than it appears initially.

The performances are solid and the screenplay is intelligent and patient. Rushed, this story could come off as forced and possibly ridiculous. But the pacing allows the film to be about the characters instead of merely about what happens to them. That adds to the film’s intrigues. The story’s relative lack of complications is another positive. That allows the filmmaker to focus on the themes that come out of the characters’ situation. Instead of piling one surprise on top of another, the story unfolds pretty naturally from its setup.

Shut the hell up! I'm trying to sleep in here!

The Atoning was written, directed, produced and edited by Michael Williams. He also served as cinematographer and sound designer. It is his second feature length film as a director and he shows he has the ability to use something that is not seen often enough in horror/thrillers: subtlety. His movie does not beat you over the head with its tone. This is especially true in his use of sounds. It’s a quiet film for the most part, but Williams uses everyday sounds (such as a kitchen faucet that will not stop dripping) to amplify the silence. It allows viewers to feel that something is inherently wrong rather than telling viewers what is wrong.

There are a couple of things that stopped the movie from being something special. Because of some of the film’s surprises, a lot of important information about the characters is held off until later on. This makes some of their behavior puzzling. Though most of it is explained, it was still frustrating enough at times to take me out of the drama as it was occurring. Additionally, the ending was not quite as strong as it could have been. Despite the title, it did not feel like anyone had actually atoned.

As a whole, The Atoning is a pleasant surprise. A supernatural thriller with more of an emphasis on the choices we make and their lasting effects than on empty thrills. It is a clever twist on the genre and one that is certainly worth a look.

Share the fear.


-Ben Pivoz