Studio: Gravitas Ventures
Director: Michael Williams
Writer: Michael Williams
Producer: Michael LaCour, Michael Williams, Joni Seitz
Stars: Virginia Newcomb, Cannon Bosarge, Michael LaCour, Dorothy Weems, Sherri Eakin, Alex Zuko, Ashlyn Jade Lopez, Jessy Hughes
A troubled family seemingly trapped inside their own home comes to suspect that other entities might be trapped with them.
“The Atoning” opens on a mother tucking in her son for the night. The young boy asks when his father is coming home, to which his mother replies she doesn’t know. But the woman reminds her son that they have a long drive ahead of them, so she wants him asleep by the time Uncle Danny gets there.
Mom showers, packs a bag, and clutches her necklace while glancing nervously at her phone. A mystery man then enters the house. The woman asks, “Danny?” Following a few thumps heard when the camera cuts to a shot of a hallway, the man enters the little boy’s room to aim a gun at the sleeping tike’s head.
Mom suddenly wakes on the couch. Whatever just happened was apparently a dream. The woman collects a couple of blankets and moves to her son’s room as if to stand guard. A few more odd thumps are heard. The screen fades to black and in fades the title text to an ominous audio sting.
I can’t tell you what useful information the audience is expected to take away from that sequence, why it should feel remotely frightening, or who/what it even sets up. Clearly, the film considers these roundabout three and a half minutes important enough to be the prologue. This confusing scene does play into a bigger picture further in the film. But as an appetizing enticement to get engaged with “The Atoning,” it couldn’t be a more dully unwelcoming introduction.
The movie goes on like this for quite a while. Cryptic dialogue along the lines of, “do you think he knows?” or “don’t worry, I can change things” extends ambiguity well into the second act without directly cluing in viewers to what the story is really about. Maybe “The Atoning” is a haunted house horror film. Maybe it’s a supernatural mystery. Maybe it’s a psychological portrait of a family in crisis. It will take us a long time to sort things out, though. First, we have to slog through repeated scenes of lifehacking a dripping faucet, re-hanging a pesky painting, putting together a jigsaw puzzle, and more household chores I wouldn’t want to do myself, never mind watching someone else do them for my supposed entertainment.
“The Atoning” essentially concerns Vera, her aloof husband Ray, and their young son Sam. The troubled trio is seemingly unable to leave the confines of their own home, as though caught in either a literal or figurative purgatory that has them recycling daily routines without realizing why. Fleeting glimpses of other figures in the house spur everyone to suspect a paranormal presence might be manipulating their family in some way. It isn’t until Sam starts speaking with a shadowy shape in his closet that these haunting visions come full circle to reveal what is actually happening and why.
Unless you find creaking floors and slowly opening doors to be spooky, you’re in for one excruciatingly uneventful movie. By being a predominantly three-person interplay restricted to one small house for its duration, “The Atoning” doesn’t have much to work with from the outset. By occupying these mundane minutes with static shots of moping people milling about the same plain rooms shooting silent stares at one another, “The Atoning” dooms itself to becoming a tragically tiresome experience that can barely be classified as a “thriller.”
As a ‘friends and family’-produced microbudget movie, “The Atoning” undoubtedly has honest intentions. Writer/producer/editor/cinematographer Michael Williams and lead actor/producer/executive producer Michael LaCour put together a simple DIY effort that at least doesn’t extend beyond its limited capabilities. Frankly however, lethargic amateur acting, a belabored premise that spins its wheels getting going, and a demonic villain that is just a pantomiming performer in black greasepaint can’t come close to getting a rise out of anyone, particularly after they’ve been put to sleep by everything else in the film.
Review Score: 25