Review: 'ATM' is a 15-Minute Idea Trapped Inside a 90-Minute Movie
by Jeremy Kirk
March 5, 2012
Three people trapped in an ATM building. A hooded killer stands outside, toying with them. He doesn't try to break in. He doesn't let them leave, either. What would you do? That's the question screenwriter Chris Sparling and director David Brooks ask the audience with the high-concept thriller, ATM. It could have worked. If the characters here reacted in any real way, they might have pulled it off. They don't, and it becomes exceedingly obvious that ATM is a 15-minute idea trapped in a 90-minute movie. With unsatisfying and unnatural padding, flashes of style, it's tone and energy is too often replaced with shambling and idiocy.
The three trapped are actors Brian Geraghty, Alice Eve, and Josh Peck, three co-workers driving home in the middle of the night after the company Christmas party. Geraghty has a crush on Eve and plans to make his move this night. Peck, on the other hand, is the moocher, the guy who forces a ride home from you when he knows you're game plan. He's the kind of guy who makes you stop at the most secluded ATM in the world, situated in a glass building in the middle of a dark, parking lot, so he can get cash for food. Bumbling ensues, all three end up inside the glass building, and that's when they notice the man standing outside.
You get an impression early in ATM as to how much Sparling and Brooks are trying to pad their screenplay out. They don't just let us know Peck's character is a jerk, they make it evident in every action he does and everything he says in the first 15 minutes of the movie. They don't just let us know Geraghty's character is the nice guy who's trying to find the right girl. They feed that establishment time and time again until you just want an ATM, any ATM, to make an inevitable appearance. Eve's character is paper thin. You get so little from her character - and her stilted performance - that you can't help but speculate she has some ulterior motives for being here.
The two men are stock brokers, and you get a reading from their respective character in the way they handle a client who, through Geraghty's doing, has lost everything. This element would have been a nice, nuanced red herring for what's going on in the story, the idea of someone you've never met having their life ruined because of your actions. But it's brought up blatantly, as if the audience isn't smart enough to figure it out on their own.
It's a mess of characters that might work in a film with a broader scale. But keeping these three trapped inside an ATM for nearly 90 minutes doesn't work. Sparling and Brooks don't do the characters any favors after the shit hits the fan, either. The killer walks away, becomes distracted from any passerby or security guard who is unlucky enough to be in the vicinity. It's these moments where you begin playing the "What would I do?" game, the game Sparling and Brooks probably wanted their audience to play in the first place. It's the same with Sparling's previous work, Buried. Put a likable, for the most part, character in a horrible situation and see how they get out of it. With Buried, running away as fast you possibly can is never an option. With ATM, it is, but these characters don't take it. That's when "What would I do" turns into "Why are these characters so dumb".
They eventually do begin acting in intelligent ways, trying to break the ATM to call the police or actually making a dash when the killer is absent from sight. It's always 30 minutes after you thought they should act, though, which equates to about 3 hours in the story. That's how Sparling and Brooks pad their film out the most, by making the lead characters, characters with which we're supposed to connect, aggravatingly brain-dead. Yes, there's a devil's advocate argument about not knowing what you might do in any situation until you're actually in it. The "What they should do" versus "What the actually do" disconnection is so much, though, that you can't help but become increasingly annoyed the longer the film goes on.
There's enough satisfying horror beats in the film to keep it from being a total loss. You become distracted by the character's stupidity when Brooks throws in a few impressive stunts—you wouldn't think decent stunt work would be at play, but it is—or Sparling and Brooks work to pull off some well-timed and even ballsy "gotchya" moments. Brooks doesn't pull his camera back on the action often. Most of it is TV-level medium shots with little energy. However, one moment more than any other pulls back, lets you see as much as you can in the dark parking lot, and even gives you an inkling of hope. Once the promise of that situation gets cut short, though, it's done with some genuine force. Other moments tease this kind of higher grade building of suspense. None of them match it, and most of them pass by practically unnoticed.
They wouldn't be enough, either, to justify ATM, a thriller that begins as a novel idea and gets progressively more unappealing. It plods along, hitting you with decent beats here and there, until its completely overblown, overlong, and overly explained finale sucks the oxygen out like a flash fire. But ATM loses you well before that. It isn't long in the film before Sparling's desired "What would I do" question becomes "Why are they so dumb". They're this dumb, because they're in a 90-minute movie. They're this dumb, because this situation in the real world would amount to 20 minutes of film, and who could justify that? Like the characters, we're stuck in that building, forced to watch the horrors unfold. We, of course, recognize we don't have to stay there. It's not long before we decide we don't want to stay, either.
Jeremy's Rating: 4.5 out of 10