Written and directed by Michael Williams, The Atoning is a creepy haunted house thriller. A young family is haunted in their old southern home by ghosts. The formula could not be more cliché even if it tried. The thing about The Atoning is, this film takes that cliché narrative and hits it out of the park with not just one reveal but two.
Virginia Newcomb leads the small cast as Vera, a dedicated wife to Ray (Michael LaCour) and mother to their son, Sam (Cannon Bosarge). Sam spends his days playing leggos and doing puzzles, trying to figure out why his parents seem on edge all of the time. Every time he asks them to play with him they say no. Whenever he asks to go see his uncle, they say no. He’s trapped in an endless summer off from school in a home so old it doesn’t even have a TV in it.
As an audience we feel sorry for Sam. Bosarge is a standout in this film. With only a handful of acting gigs under his belt, Bosarge’s soft facial expressions elicit the exact reaction out of viewers each time he’s rejected by his parents or asks about Julie, the girl who haunts his dreams.
The first major reveal happens around the 45-minute mark. By then the movie has already aged so much one wonders what could be left for the remaining 45. As it turns out, that first twist is merely the tip of the iceberg. The film is a slow burn. New-age horror fans who have little patience won’t appreciate that technique. Seasoned horror lovers will be more on board and willing to wait for the answers and true villains to be revealed.
The lower budget shows through in various regards. It doesn’t mean the film is bad, but by today’s standards modern audiences won’t be nearly as impressed. This isn’t Insidious, though The Atoning wishes it was and borrows from it. The acting isn’t anywhere near as good as Insidious. The cast here is much less well known and experienced. Though Newcomb has her moments as Vera she can’t fully carry the film on her shoulders. LaCour as Ray is stiff, therefore we don’t ever sympathize with him like we do with Sam’s Bosarge.
The Atoning is a haunted house film with a unique crutch in it’s corner. It makes it worth viewing once. After that, viewers can find other ways to spend an hour and a half being scared.