The Atoning (2017) - an indieByte Review

Welcome to the first iByte Films review of independent films, which we shall call indieBytes. We had the honor to see Michael Williams' The Atoning at a local screening on April 14, 2017, inside Lowe Mill's Flying Monkey Arts Theater. So let's get started. Take a moment to watch this fantastic trailer first.  

"Mom, there's someone in my room." Nothing taps into my fears worse than the idea I'm not alone, especially when I SHOULD be alone. If you think about it, the root of most, if not all fears, comes from the moment we are deserted, left alone, in our dark bedroom.  As a child, we don't know to what to expect, but somehow, we do. In the darkest reaches of our imagination, we see the monsters there. Lurking. Waiting. 

The idea of being alone stirs up a cauldron of emotions in us. Michael Williams' The Atoning masterfully weaves a tale of horror, steeped in this premise of loneliness. Early in the first act, Sam overhears a conversation between his mom and dad, leading him to ask the question "Are you and Dad getting a divorce?" The film kicks into gear at this point, as we follow Sam along with his parents, Ray and Vera. Each one deals with their fear of desolation. 

We soon learn they are not alone after all. Is it a ghost? Demons? Their own nightmares? To say much would give away the crux of the film, which is best left to find out on your own. 

This indie film inspires us here at iByte Films, to work harder. Smarter. Michael Williams brings such beautiful images, where nearly every frame is worthy to be studied. He tackled the task of low-budget filmmaking by smartly staying in the confines of a single home, which suits the story of loneliness and desertion very well. The story proceeds with a slow burn, but that's not a bad thing. Williams treats us with great character development, and coupled with the astute performance of the film's lead actress, Virginia Newcomb, we experience indie filmmaking at its finest. 

I've got to say in addition to the great visuals, Michael Williams and his sound crew did a marvelous job capturing live audio of the house itself. The creaks in the wooden floor and the groaning door hinges add a layer of authenticity to this horror film. In case you are wondering, these sounds were naturally captured. The house certainly came alive for the crew. The question is, did it decide to become a character in Williams' story, or did it simply try to warn them of dangers within? 

My one complaint comes when we are shown the film's twist. It's a tough job to define when to pull back the curtain of your tale, and much of it depends on the taste of the writer. So to me, I prefer to rather sneak in a final reveal before the credits roll. That being said, I can understand how Williams' direction leads to an interesting turn of storytelling. I suppose, with further thought, Williams may have indeed provided a twist that didn't occur to me until weeks later, and that is, how do the characters and we, as an audience, deal with knowing the truth?

I realize that at this point, I've not acknowledged the real theme of this film, which is given to us by its title, atonement. As a writer, Williams deftly explores how the sins of his characters brought them to loneliness, and in turn, how can they discover their individual paths to atonement. 

The actors really captured their characters perfectly for me. The chemistry between Virginia Newcomb and Cannon Bosarge (Sam) created a remarkably believable view of a mother-son relationship. Michael LaCour, as Sam's dad Ray, managed to make me really feel pity towards Sam.  I also have to give a heartfelt shout-out to my good friend, and fellow namesake, Alex Zuko. It was surreal seeing Alex and Virginia (leads in our short film, "Match") play such different roles. 

Also, Dorothy Weems brought in additional creep factor with her role as Charon. I also rather enjoyed seeing Bryan Benfield's appearance in The Atoning as one of the creatures. I personally know these two actors, so it's always great to see someone familiar on the big screen. There is much more I'd like to discuss, and by no means, do I intend to leave out the fact that there are dozens of cast and crew responsible for the success of this film. Allow me to speak for the iByte Films team, kudos to all of you.

On a final note, I'd like to send personal thanks to Michael Williams for being so gracious and allowing us to premiere our short film, "Match", prior to the Huntsville screening of The Atoning. 

If you read this review and have not seen The Atoning, stay tuned. We'll post any updates for future screenings, and when it becomes available publicly. In the meantime, check out Michael Williams' first feature, OzLand, on Amazon Prime now.  

Feel free to chime in the comments below. Have you seen The Atoning yet? If so, what did you think? 

Oh, and don't forget to check your bedroom closet before you tuck in for the night. You just never know.

- Alex