I remember the first time I saw the trailer for ATM. The premise of three people trapped in an ATM while a deranged madman tortured them? Well, it seemed a little ludicrous. Then I saw that the writer of Buried was attached to the project. I’d seen bottle movies go wrong, like Devil but as one of the few fans of the Ryan Reynolds movie, I was prepared to be in the minority for liking another “trapped in a single location” movie.
Unfortunately, nothing could prepare me for what ATM had to offer. The film starts with perennial good guy, David, longing for wallflower-type, Emily. Through a system of circumstances, the two, plus David’s inexplicable “friend” and unquestionable jerk, Corey, are stuck at the hands of a parka-wearing killer. Truth be told, you can get all of this from the trailer, but even after watching all 85 minutes of the director’s cut, I know the characters no better than I did from watching previews. In a movie that has absolutely no variety, in terms of location or even camerawork, it is a writer’s duty to engross you in the characters. Well, that should be the case with any movie, but it is an absolute imperative in a bottle movie like ATM. Unfortunately, the characters remain cardboard cut-outs of actual people. The film toys with their moral and ethical shortcomings but with such tedium that ATM doesn’t seem to be saying anything about its characters at all.
Honestly, in today’s uncertain economic climate and with the three potential victims being financial advisors, I had hoped that ATM would be a little more timely, maybe even smart. While the film does touch on the state of the market in passing, it had the potential to be an intelligent commentary, but instead panders to the whole “ambiguous fear” angle. That’s right, a movie as short as ATM poses questions that, only in the end does it become clear, it never had any intentions of answering.
One would think that flat characterization and no real resolution would be the greatest offense ATM could commit. Sadly, if you thought that, you would be wrong. As I’ve said before, ATM is a bottle movie. It pretty much entirely takes place in one ATM, with about five minutes in an office building. Yet, ATM is so lazy in its description that even the interior of a glass box is foreign to its viewers. I’m not saying that I expected the film to painstakingly cover every inch of its surroundings for the audience, but the fact that the group notices a sprinkler system only halfway through the film is just too easy. That is perhaps my greatest problem with ATM. The film is so conveniently claustrophobic so that writer Chris Sparling can play out his dark fantasy. Honestly, it’s just plain insulting when Sparling “subtlely” writes into his film a Christmas tree lot behind the free-standing ATM building, complete with water hose (still not sure why dead trees need a water hose) so that he can freeze his victims.
ATM tries to overcome its insurmountable problems. For instance, the fact that there are three people inside the ATM and one outside is dismissed early on. One of the characters theorizes that there could be more out there, they don’t know and therefore should not try. These explanations, besides being entirely impractical, don’t exactly fit the “fight or die” circumstances. When such lazy writing is paired with flat characters, ATM stops being a horror film and becomes a guessing game as to who will die next and how quickly til the film is over. See, ATM isn’t just bad. It would be one thing if I simply didn’t like the film. No, ATM is actively insulting with the way that it plays out. Complete with an obnoxiously predictable ambiguous ending, the film tries to throw its audience for a shock or two. If ATM had spent more time trying to shock its audience and create fully-formed characters, it might have been able to escape the stigma of the “trapped in a single location” sub-genre. Instead, it just proves why this trend in filmmaking needs to die.
ATM will be released on blu ray and DVD on July 31, 2012. The blu ray includes the theatrical cut of the film and a director’s cut as well as a trailer for the film and a behind-the-scenes featurette.