The Atoning

***

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Atoning
"Bosarge does a lot with his role and his naturalness helps to give the film an edge that no amount of over-familiar moody lighting can achieve."

The tap is dripping. Nobody's sure when it started, but it's been going on for a while, and it's really beginning to get on their nerves. It's not that hard to fix a washer, which is almost always the problem, but for some reason nobody tries. "Uncle Danny could do it," suggests Sam (Cannon Bosarge). His parents make excuses. They seems content to remain in a state of stress, as if finding comfort in the familiar. Uncle Danny isn't coming. In fact, nobody is coming.

It's the school holidays, and it takes Sam a while to realise that nobody is entering or leaving the house. Something weird is going on. Are his parents going to get divorced? He's worried, hiding out in his room, trying to communicate with what he's sure is the ghost of a little girl. He believes in her, even if his parents don't. He'd be surprised by what his parents do believe, what they can no longer deny to themselves, what they're desperately trying to keep from him until they can figure out a solution.

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A story about memory, guilt, and the petty cruelties that can emerge from the feeling of being stuck together, The Atoning is slow to build but works hard to establish its characters before confronting us with realities that some viewers may have guessed early on. There are a number of red herrings here and Michael Williams' film builds on the stylistic work of similarly themed predecessors to suggest a greater level of complexity than is ultimately present. "I'm sick of this house," says Vera (Virginia Newcomb), retreating into bourgeois concerns to fend off the difficult questions. Why hasn't she left? And why is husband Ray (Michael LaCour) so blandly reassuring, unwilling to confront their situation head on, retreating into religious books he must have had before he apparently needed them?

There's a point in The Atoning when viewers may hesitate, wondering if what they're watching is a story about guilt by association. Creating this uneasiness is perhaps its best trick, as it's a thought that's going to be equally pertinent in the minds of the characters. Having less information to work with than his parents, Sam might be expected to be the least interesting character, but Bosarge does a lot with the role and his naturalness helps to give the film an edge that no amount of over-familiar moody lighting can achieve. When his ghostly visions reveal something sinister, it's much eaiser to feel fear and concern than it is to connect with the consciously remote adults.

Less sophisticated than it seems to think, The Atoning is nevertheless an effective little fable whose underlying horrors are very much a part of the real world.

Reviewed on: 02 Sep 2017
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A family are trapped until they can face their past and understand their fate.

Director: Michael Williams

Writer: Michael Williams

Starring: Virginia Newcomb, Michael LaCour, Cannon Bosarge

Year: 2017

Runtime: 89 minutes

Country: US

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