Michael Williams directed and wrote his first feature horror film The Atoning, although not his first entry into the genre, that came as a 12-minute short flick entitled Lukos (2010), as well as working on other productions aiding his storytelling. However, while the genre and artwork, all hint to a horror film; it actually becomes more a Lifetime channel horror or horror-lite, as layered more as a drama mixed with some mystery. Williams created a moody film, but tries valiantly to generate suspense and tension in an attempt to conjure a creepy factor, sadly it never materializes properly. His movie tries to stay original, using techniques of revealing a backstory slowly masking the broader sense of the plot with subtle reference points and appearances. This film, definitely strives for incorporating different themes, balancing itself not fully into a haunted home but rather a moral tale about right versus wrong and the consequences of breaking vows and oaths. I will try to skirt around most of the plot and possible spoilers, since the movie recently got released on September 5th, of this year via DVD and VOD thanks to Gravitas Ventures.
The story surrounds a typical family Vera, Ray, and Sam, haunted by more than mere ghosts, a large heavy and somber feeling weighs on their lives, something in their past traps their ability to move forward, while plagued by personal demons but who owns them, the larger mystery. Vera (Virginia Newcomb) often complains, “I’m sick of this house,” equipped with locked doors, and dripping faucets. Ray (Michael LaCour) her husband squirrels himself away in his study and reads over occult themed books, though appears the bible is not one of them. The film attempts to balance moral horror with spiritual essence, a sort of religious direction, but never in a preachy manner; however it seems to clearly show a divided house where the innocent find themselves trapped in another’s hell. Sam, the child of the family, generates curiosity for the viewers to root for, thanks to Cannon Bosarge as he encounters more events that are sinister. Williams’ movie paces itself well, but stays very basic, never quite achieving the scare factors often found in the haunted house subgenre, and frankly there’s no true blood splatters, but it’s not needed if the fear factors run high, unfortunately they don’t hence leveling at a TV movie standard. The opportunity existed to challenge the commonplace theme in the second act, especially with a séance as in The Others (2001) or even 13 Ghosts (1960), but perhaps budgetary concerns limited the options.
One curious thing, each actor delivers interestingly worded dialogue, as if the line plays to a deeply rooted message, but definitely Ray and Vera exhibit strong animosity towards each other, while Sam tries to breach the void with comical suggestions and often puzzled with his parents individual behaviors. Obviously, a DIY production, a passion project, and the villains remind one of a mime except coated in black makeup, and generate no scares to anyone who enjoys horror films. The story takes a long time to build, and often contains still shots as filler for the story to stretch its time, thereby making an important mistake, never overstay one’s welcome, tell the story in the straightest and most direct path possible. This manner of storytelling shows respect for the audience and makes for a cleaner story. One aspect, which Williams uses to his advantage throughout the movie, but in different angles each time, the play with darkness and the brightest richness light possible, though it does foreshadow a lot to the viewer.
Simply stated The Atoning fits into an original concept, but limits the scares to an elementary nature, glimpses of spooky hands, creaking doors, and sudden thumps, just can’t hold the attention of the typical horror fan, Chiller television horror offers more to the fan-base.
IMDb Rating: 4/10
Baron’s Rating: 4/10