Atone (2014) – By Kyle Hytonen

The short drama Atone begins its first frame on a quote from Nietzsche: “To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering.” A noble statement, one that the film tries to encapsulate in it’s 20 plus minute run-time. The film opens on Ted (Jim Dougherty, also Director and Co-Producer), a man who is desperately spreading missing posters of a woman across town. Ted is obviously concerned for her whereabouts. He finds himself in Skid Row, and finally catches a break, as an old drunk recognizes the woman from the poster and directs him to where she was last seen. The missing woman, Allie (Jessica Froelich, also Co-writer), sits alone in an abandoned warehouse. She is dishevelled and seems to be faltering in her own universe on a psychological level, yet she seems happy with her hermit-like existence.

As Ted continues his search for her, Allie is delighted by a visit from Jack (Bret Hopkins). Allie begins to reminisce with Jack, about fond times spent together in the past. As Allie tells Jack she is off her meds, we begin to realize that maybe Jack is only a figment in her mind at the moment. A flashback sequence details their relationship, his marriage proposal to Allie and ultimately, his death in a hit and run. This would explain Allie’s breakdown and the fact that Jack is now just a piece of her own broken psyche. These flashbacks skew us forward to Allie’s fragile state in the warehouse. As Jack fades out of Allie’s mental grasp and she gives up on moving forward by contemplating suicide, Ted finds Allie, who we discover is his orphaned niece. The film then allows these two lead characters to revisit scarred family wounds that aren’t quite healed as they try to come to some sort of reconciliation of their shattered past.

Atone carries a very heavy hand throughout the film in purveying this story across. There are clichés abound in the narrative, especially when dealing with tragedy, which the film decides to pour on pretty thick. Director Dougherty loves his actors, you can tell, yet he allows them to get a bit too over-the-top, in particular Froelich in the lead. Many of her most dramatic scenes are done in long, widely composed takes. Although this seems to be an actor’s moment to shine, it is harboured by director Dougherty and cinematographer Jim Timperman’s lack of cinematic impact. Where we should be brought in closer to the actor with the camera’s eye we are resorted to watching from stage left. There are moments that could really bring the viewer into the character’s tragedy, thus propelling the story, but we are left with bland, overlong static shots of Froelich displaying her strained chops. Watching Atone, I felt that I was watching an un-interesting one act play. At around 23 minutes, the film seems bloated amongst a pretty threadbare plot.

Overall, Atone left me quite flat. I thought there was a strong lack of pacing in the film, and some of the performances were quite over the top. Director Dougherty and writers Froelich and Daniel J Cavallini throw a twist at the film’s climax that leaves us with way too many questions. This final shot and twist seemed to negate the entire premise of the term atonement that the film tries to communicate, and left me trying to find meaning in that kind of cinematic suffering.

You can find out more info on Atone by visiting the director’s website at http://www.jim-dougherty.com/index.html