Welcome to the Ending Explained for ‘The Atoning,’ a 2017 horror film written and directed by Michael Williams. The film stars Virginia Newcomb, Michael LaCour, and Cannon Bosarge. The film tells the story of a family of three living in a normal suburban house when, sadly, strange things start happening around them. A mystery is not being shared, and it could be a truth they don’t want to see. The film marks Williams’ first foray into the horror genre, and while it is clearly a low-budget effort, its premise takes it a long way.
‘The Atoning’ is a low-budget movie, with only our three main characters serving as proper characters in the story. The movie also takes place in just one location, which is a clear sign that there wasn’t a lot of money to expand the story to other places. However, as you watch the movie, you understand that Williams and his team did the best they could do for the story they wanted to tell.
The premise feels original and plays with the genre’s conventions satisfactorily. It might not be the most shocking or scary of movies, but it tries to explore a side of ghost stories that is often ignored. There are other movies like this one that do it better, but The Atoning is still strong.
The following paragraphs contain spoilers for ‘The Atoning.’ Read at your own risk.
Who is really in the house?
The movie begins using what it looks to be In Medias Res, meaning that it starts at a point in time that we will revisit again later but with a different context, just to make everything make sense.
Fight Club used the tool with very fine results, and so did ‘The Atoning’. We see the classic execution of a murder. We see the characters of Vera and her son Sam inside a very dark house devoid of light and happiness. Sam seems to be very attached to his dad and asks when he is coming home. Vera says she doesn’t know. When someone arrives at the house, it is clear that it is Ray, Sam’s father and Vera’s husband.
We see Ray killing Vera and Sam, but we don’t know why. Sam wakes up, and the movie tries to pass it on as a nightmare, but we know better; it was a bit to clear if the intention was to keep the audience confused about who killed them. Sam wakes up and starts his routine; he has breakfast, plays, and so on.
However, there is something strange about Sam: he often forgets which day it is and feels like summer lasts forever. There is also a very hostile atmosphere coming from the parents; they barely talk to each other and just watch him from afar. Sam’s memory problems are the least weird thing happening.
As the family goes about their day, they start seeing other people in the house. Vera sees shadows in the corner of her eyes; Sam sees a little girl inside his room, and Ray watches a woman getting naked and taking a shower inside their bathroom. These people appear and disappear instantly, but it is enough to freak out the family. Especially Vera.
She cannot take living in this house anymore. It feels like the place is falling apart, and while Ray says he will fix it, it seems like he cannot do anything to improve the situation.
Ray is also quite distant; when Sam hugs him, he barely hugs the boy back. It is all very strange. At this point, most audience members would have come up with the answer to what is happening.
Thankfully, the movie knows it, too, revealing the mystery halfway through. Vera, Ray, and Sam are ghosts. They died just like the movie’s start showed us, but they don’t know it. At least not, Sam. However, the entire illusion he was living on comes crashing down when a medium starts performing a ritual in the middle of their living room.
Why Did Ray Kill His Family?
It all comes as a huge shock. Vera, Sam, and Ray see another family in their house alongside a mysterious medium. Previously, Ray had found a book written in the same medium inside their bedroom, and Ray also had pictures of the other family. Vera gets angry about him having pictures of the little girl.
In the middle of the ritual, we realized that the family with the medium are the true inhabitants of the house. Vera, Ray, and Sam are dead, haunting the place and making this family’s life a nightmare. Sam finally realizes what is wrong. The medium finishes the ritual and says that soon, the spirits will be out of the house.
Knowing now that they are dead, the family dynamic changes. Vera becomes more distant, Sam becomes more curious and close to his dad, and Ray starts believing this may be a second chance for them. Vera doesn’t believe this one bit. They cannot go outside their house. All doors are closed. Vera knows they need to get out of there soon. Strange dark creatures start appearing around the house to make things even worse. At first, only Sam can see them, and they contact him through his Legos. The creature wants to play but doesn’t want Sam to tell his parents about him.
The creatures start manifesting much stronger with each passing day. Finally, Sam gets ready to tell their parents about these strange creatures. However, before he does, he is taken away. Vera cannot do anything to get to his son. On the other hand, Ray sees a vision of a girl named Vanessa.
Here, it is revealed that Vera was planning on leaving with Sam. Vera discovered that Ray was involved with Vanessa, who was only 16 years old. Ray arrives one night drunk and full of anger, as it seems Vera talked to someone and the rumor of him being with a minor starts to spread. In his fury, Ray kills Sam and Vera.
They see it all, finally revealing the truth to them. Vera defends Sam and separates him from his father. Vera tells Ray to go to hell. It might be that Ray is truly remorseful for having done what he did, but it is too late. He needs to be punished. The creatures, which are clearly demons, take Ray away to Hell. After the incident, Vera and Sam go out of the room and see that they can finally get out of the house. They have finally surpassed this purgatory and are ready to go to the real afterlife together.