While they are haunted by ghostly apparitions, two parents try to protect their young son from a dark secret that could destroy their family.
September 5th, 2017
Mother Vera (Virginia Newcomb), father Ray (Michael LaCour) and son Sam (Cannon Bosarge) wake up each morning in their two-story, old house – apparently somewhere in the south. They make coffee, eat breakfast and continue work on a tabletop puzzle. Sam never knows what day it is (it seems to always be a summer weekend), and so he goes about his day playing with his toys and wondering why his parents are acting so strangely. Turns out, they’re not able to leave their home, and eventually, it’ll become clear that they are not the only inhabitants of their abode.
Other than the lead performance from Virginia Newcomb (she could be the younger sister of Sissy Spacek) as Vera – there is not one decent performance in all of the film. Admittedly, it’s a small cast – three leads with about four supporting roles… and none of them are any good. And even Newcomb isn’t good all the way through. She’s good at emoting and producing real tears – but some of her reactions don’t quite sell it. I believe that if she were given a better script and perhaps receive stronger direction, that she would be a force to reckon with. Sadly, The Atoning is clearly not the best place to show off what appear to be innate acting talents on the part of Newcomb.
I didn’t like the casting of Ray. Michael LaCour is one of the film’s producers (as well as its casting director) and so it feels like something of a vanity piece to have himself cast in the lead role. He’s simply not good. I can see Ray’s kind of down-trodden moroseness as both pivotal and reasonable to what’s happening to this family, but his performance never goes much beyond that. There’s no urgency in anything he does or says, and when the second big reveal (not much of a mystery) comes to pass – his feeble attempts to emote are painful to watch.
As the kid Sam, Cannon Bosarge is so young and green, that you can sort of allow a pass on his less-than performance. He gets the chance to redeem his affected work in the film’s climax a bit (perhaps owing to the strength of his on-screen mother’s acting work), but overall, this is not a strong bit of acting from this kid.
And not that this complaint is his fault, but Bosarge is clearly a pre-teen. Some of the dialogue, actions and reactions from his character – make him sound and appear to be much younger. His meekness as Sam feels like it should be coming from a kid at least 4 years younger. So to the filmmakers, either cast a younger kid if that’s what you need, or adjust the dialogue to suit your older casting choice. As is, the actor cast doesn’t properly match the written character.
The demonic creatures who appear in the film’s second half (it would have been far more interesting to receive hints of their presence early on) are played by actors who would not be out of place performing in some sort of haunted house. These actors feel like the over-zealous (and generally untrained) actors in such seasonal Halloween events. There is no nuance employed in their performances. And it feels as though they take it far too seriously. The result is what you’ll see in The Atoning – bad actors trying to convince an audience that they’re bloodthirsty monsters. It does nothing but ring completely false.
The location used for the home is full of potential – but it feels wasted by the generally flat lighting, uninspired camerawork and repetitive framing. Perhaps drastic lighting changes could have been employed as the film continues (and gets darker) – but having the same design and angles all throughout the film, becomes tedious.
And there have been plenty of one-location thrillers which have made a concerted effort to keep things changed up, so a potential excuse of “you can only do so much with this one location”, doesn’t fly.
The film borrows from films like The Others, Ghost and even pilfers ideas from Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice. There’s even the film’s own version of “The Handbook for the Recently Deceased” which is discovered and then studied by Ray. But the film doesn’t have the magic, the tension or heart of any of those films.
The story meanders. I think that the overriding concept – in the hands of a better filmmaker and a better writer (both of these tasks currently fall to Michael Williams), could have been far more intriguing. There’s little to no build, and so watching the film becomes a tiresome exercise.
Much like the situation in which the characters find themselves – you’ll experience boredom, the need to escape and the doldrums of repetition.
I was able to figure out what the situation was – within four minutes. And that’s not a call-out to my brilliance or mesmerizing film-watching skills. But the film reveals what I already knew, at the halfway point. So you’re wondering where the film goes from there. There is a second big reveal at the film’s conclusion, but as mentioned above – that was no great surprise either.
At that same halfway point, there’s a séance sequence. It’s so completely cliched, so dreadfully acted (particularly by the actress portraying psychic Charon – played by Dorothy Weems) and so uninspired, you’ll have no choice to but to roll your eyes and begin the inevitable “mental check-out”.
And I hate to be that person, but nothing pulls you from a film (if you haven’t already given up) like seeing the reflection of a boom mike in the glass of a framed art piece on the wall. How are these things either missed or not properly addressed? In this day and age, such slip-ups are inexcusable.
With one decent (but not perfect) performance and the potential for an overall interesting premise (which is never properly exploited) and nothing else – The Atoning can be pretty much summed up with this – “Watch at your own risk.”
The Atoning will be released in theatres and on VOD on September 5th, 2017.