'The Atoning' is a scary success

Josh Presley

Properly reviewing “The Atoning” without giving any sort of spoiler is difficult, but I’m not a highly-paid (hah) well-respected (ahahahaha) movie critic for nothing, so I’m going to try.
I’m sure many of you taking the time to read this were among the crowd who turned up for the preview screening on Thursday and, from what I could tell, many of you were scared. That’s good. “The Atoning” is a horror movie, and a horror movie with no scares is like a comedy with no jokes.
So, the million dollar question: did I personally think it was that scary? It certainly had it’s moments — jolt here, some nice creepy imagery there — but I don’t think the point of “The Atoning” was necessarily to terrify you out of your pants or give you nightmares for weeks. If that’s the effect it had on you, then that’s great, and the movie certainly earns it’s horror badge.
However, I think writer/director Michael Williams was more interested in telling a story, and that story happened to have scary parts.
The most I can comfortably tell you about the plot is that a family, played by Virginia Newcomb, Cannon Bosarge and Michael LaCour, seem to be having a ghost problem to go along with their domestic problems. Newcomb is luminous as Vera, and she does the bulk of the heavy lifting, acting-wise. Her look and screen presence makes me wonder why I’d never heard of her before, but I’ll certainly be looking for her in the future.
Bosarge was a smart piece of casting, as kids in horror movies are almost uniformly irritating, but his performance as Sam never veers too far into annoying precociousness. The interactions between Newcomb and Bosarge felt natural, which is to the credit of both the actors and the director.
LaCour was a bit too wooden for my liking as husband/father Ray, but there’s an in-story reason for much of his behavior so I can’t criticize him too much. These three are our main cast, but most of the bit part performances are serviceable to downright good (I’d like to see a spinoff featuring Alex Zuko, Sherri Eakin and Ashlynn Lopez’s characters). I’d like to make special mention of Dorothy Weems, who was the creepiest thing in the movie, though she seemed rather bemused when I told her so following the screening.
What else? Oh, right, there’s a twist. The twist itself is a twist because it twists rather early in the movie, rather than at its conclusion. I wonder if sponsor Twisted Burger had something to do with that? See Daily Times Leader, or visit www.dailytimesleder.com, for further updates.
Much like Williams’ previous feature outing, “OzLand,” “The Atoning” is beautifully shot. His greatest strength is his visual style, and while “The Atoning” isn’t quite as epic in scope as “OzLand” (the entire movie takes place in a house), it’s every bit as visually stimulating.
The special effects work which, I assume, were produced on a shoestring budget, were also cleverly executed. As an 80’s kid, I’m a sucker for practical effects work, so knowing most of this was done with wires, makeup and imagination was a highlight for me.
My biggest criticism of “The Atoning” would be its pacing early on, though I do understand the necessity to get to know the main characters before sending them through the funhouse of horror. This was a preview screening, though, and Williams has already said there’s more work to be done, so I can’t wait to see the final product.
“The Atoning” is a good movie that tells a good, creative story, and that’s all I ask when I pay my money for a ticket. I liked it when the credits rolled, and I like the idea of it the more I’ve thought about it subsequently. This is a thinking man or woman’s horror movie that gets the job done without gore or even that much violence.
At the conclusion of my “OzLand” review, I said I couldn’t wait to see what Williams did next. Here we are again. I can’t wait to see what he does next.