Written by Cole Wissinger
Originally posted on IndieEntertainmentMagazine.com
September 17, 2017
Raise your creepy, demonic, soul-grabbing hands if you are excited for horror movie season to be back.
Supernatural religion-based horror has fallen off in recent years. An actual devil with actual minions has become less scary. Unless they are yellow and wearing overalls taking over the internet, because that, is very scary. The Atoning, as the title would suggest, deals with faith themed horror.
What punishment is requisite for sin and what will you really be afraid of when it’s time to meet your maker?
The movie is patient in getting to that Judgement Day part though, as we first spend some time getting to know the main characters. Vera and Ray and their son Sam live in a modest old home–judging by their accents (and hometown of the director)–somewhere in the south.
Sam has been waking up with nightmares and feels disoriented always asking what day it is. While their son is having problems, things aren’t well in the master bedroom across the hall either. The parents try to hide their marital issues, but Sam notices they aren’t talking like they used to and these communication problems add to the general unease and tension present in the home.
Beneath this normal conflict, there are subtle supernatural moments where objects, reflections, and eventually people aren’t where they’re supposed to be. Spoilers and twists aside they quickly learn that some of the unwanted guests are friendlier than others and they all need to learn a lesson before they are allowed to leave the house.
By filming the entire movie in the confines of one set–the family’s home–the director Michael Williams creates a claustrophobic, anxious tone while maximizing a low budget. The best haunted house stories try to justify reasons that keep the occupants inside and The Atoning does it the best I’ve seen. It can be distracting while trying to get engrossed in a lock-in horror when you spend the whole runtime screaming “just open the door, break a window, get out of the freaking HOUSE!!”
This is certainly a very low budget movie, but with the exception of the very end, it never felt restrictive. The director, Michael Williams, is actually active onYouTube and talks about low budget movie magic. He also avoids the normal and now clichéd beats of a low budget horror. There is no shaky cam or found footage nonsense, all the camera work looks professional and is framed and lit well.
It also doesn’t lean on cheap blood or gore effects. It is really easy to turn a profit by making cheap looking horror movies, but Williams put together a really good looking movie that happened to be low budget and horror.
Williams is the director of 2014’s OzLand which is a post-apocalyptic take on The Wizard of Oz. Ozland’s composer, Keatzi Gunmoney, returns in The Atoning and the music and sound are fantastic as well.
They breathe new life into the lost art of the silent jump scare. The more you pay attention to the dark corners in the movie, the scarier it gets. At a certain point, as the movie progresses you are constantly on edge. You wait for another scare to creep up on you and terrify you. It keeps your heart racing during the silent lulls.
The movie is slow starting and there are moments in the middle as the family tries to work out their differences where you can forget you are watching a horror movie, but that eerie calm is exactly where the scares can work the best. And the fact that it starts slow isn’t boring, it is simple film mechanics.
Not to get all film school on y’all but the first act of a movie is usually spent setting up the characters and their main issue leading up to a plot event that changes the way they live forever. Also it is usually very short.
The Atoning spends exactly half of its hour-and-a-half runtime in the first act. This is all done to build the unease and tension that drives the thrilling feel of the movie. Not all scary movies have to screech and yell at you to tell you when to be scared.
It is in these silent moments that The Atoning allows you to think about what you are really afraid of.