Starring – Virginia Newcomb, Cannon Bosarge, Michael LaCour
Directed by Michael Williams
So, I’m beginning to think that the universe is trying to tell me something because I am no fan of scary movies, yet The Atoning is the second scary movie that has come my way this year to review for this website and both times I have discovered that I do indeed like scary movies. Well, scary movies that are more about playing mind games with you and that make you think you are seeing something absolutely terrifying when in fact you’re not; it’s just your mind that is making the movie so damn scary in the first place. I don’t think I will ever turn on a Friday the 13th or a Freddy Kruger movie and enjoy it because of all the blood and guts and violent physical terror that come with those films.
So when I was sent this film recently, part of me went, “Oh no, not again. I thought I made it clear to the universe that I’m not a scary movie fan.” But the world and the universe works in ways we will never understand, so I decided this must be a sign, so I sat my butt down and turned on this film. But I was also quite honored to be watching this film because I was given the honor last year of watching Ozland, another movie by Michael Williams, the writer, director, producer, editor and director of photography of The Atoning, and that movie astounded me with his talent. So like I did when I first discovered the awesomeness of Alfred Hitchcock when I was a teenager, I dived right on in despite my fear of scary movies because I just had to see what Michael came up with this time since he had so touched me with his last film. And Michael does not disappoint at all. He is indeed a filmmaker to watch out for and if Hollywood hasn’t sat up and taken notice of him yet then there is something indeed really wrong with that town that I keep finding myself loathing more and more all the time because that town just doesn’t make movies like they used to. I know this is the Golden Age of Television right now, but movies have always been my first love and maybe with filmmakers like Michael, my first love will come back to me again.
The Atoning is a scary movie, but at the heart of it is a love story – the love the mother has for her young son. Ray and Vera are a married couple seemingly stuck in a bad marriage. They barely speak to each other and no longer sleep in the same bed. They have a young son, Sam, who Vera does her best to protect from her marriage that is falling apart. She is always on the verge of tears, she is lonely and miserable, but it is Sam that is the love of her life and he is what she keeps fighting for. And that description of the movie is a bit vague and short because I don’t want to give away anything else about The Atoning, because it isn’t just a scary movie, it is a highly suspenseful movie and although people scream nowadays about how much they hate spoilers, despite the fact that there are entire websites and online communities dedicated to just that, I don’t want to spoil the mystery of this movie, because when you find out what really is going on, it will blow your mind. I certainly got some severe chills myself and had to turn the film off for a few moments to gather my thoughts and hit rewind to watch the beginning again because the answer to the twist was right in front of my face, but my face was too busy half covering my eyes to notice the twist that I certainly never saw coming, and I doubt most people will, eye covering or not.
What I do want to say about this film is that it has one of the best performances that I have seen in a movie in a long time. Virginia Newcomb plays Vera, the mom who is trying to keep her son from harm and too bad this film will probably never be in the Oscar race because she gives an Oscar worthy performance. You can actually feel her pain and loneliness and frustration and confusion. She doesn’t even have much dialogue. The gift of her performance is all there in the little moments that make her performance shine. And since the description she uses of herself on her Twitter page says she spits on sidewalks, I think I want to hang out with her, because how many people admit to having a talent doing that?
Virginia Newcomb giving a knockout, Oscar worthy performance in The Atoning, but sadly, no spitting on sidewalks.
And Michael Williams must be great at directing actors because there is another performance in The Atoning that also blew me away, Cannon Bosarge who played the young son, Sam. He is who the audience relates to the most because like the audience, Sam doesn’t know about the twist either, so we, the audience, are just a kid too trying to figure out what exactly is going on and Cannon’s performance is what makes us fear the scary bits the most because we are him, just a child, afraid and vulnerable and just trying to understand what is happening in the very scary adult world. And technically, there are no LGBT characters in this film. But like a character Michael had in Ozland, Sam is a character that isn’t necessarily gay, yet I felt myself drawn to him because he sure did feel like one of my people.
Michael has a true gift when it comes to storytelling because both his story and his direction in The Atoning reminded me so much of Alfred Hitchcock, which is an obvious comparison. But I also found myself noticing a bit of William Wyler thrown in there too and of all movies, the 1946 World War II drama that Wyler directed, The Best Years of Our Lives, which wasn’t a scary movie at all, other than it was about soldiers who came home from war. But something about the simplistic way Michael used the camera in The Atoning, reminded me of the way Wyler used his camera to tell the drama of a family falling apart.
And I also can’t help but wonder if Michael has had any real experiences with the paranormal world, because I sure have, and boy, a few things in The Atoning certainly seemed awfully familiar. Luckily my experiences with the spirit world have all been good ones, but still even good paranormal experiences can be scary as hell, and there are times when I still find myself trying to understand what exactly happened to me and this movie helped me to understand my experiences a little bit more.
So Hollywood, in case you didn’t catch the name of the director/writer/producer/editor/director of photography for The Atoning above, it’s Michael Williams. You should really look him up. Talent like this should never be wasted and what a waste for all of us if you let him slip through your fingers.
For more information on The Atoning, check out their Facebook and Twitter pages or the production company Shendopen. The film will be available on DVD and digital on September 5, 2017. And as of January 29, 2018, The Atoning is available on Hulu as well.