Cheap, slapped-together run-of-the-mill B-movie thrillers are a dime a dozen. And their egregiousness is often not worthy of outrage or scorn because frequently the films are made on the cheap with a knowing eye towards making a buck with direct-to-DVD sales or foreign markets that don’t care about quality. Everyone is professional and yet (very) aware they’re not making art.
These films often feature the Dolph Lundgrens of the world (and in more recent years folks like Tom Berenger and Patrick Bergin), and are usually distributed by the likes of Troma Films, Anchor Bay and First Look Studios and again, are looking towards audiences that are say, less discerning than those opting for Academy Award level movies.
The difference with the upcoming thriller “ATM,” unfairly or not, is that it was initially presented as something else, setting up expectations it likely couldn't reach. Debuting at the semi-prestigious Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, featuring a “hot conceptual script” by the critcially-acclaimed “Buried” writer Chris Sparling, and featuring the promising and up-and-coming cast of Alice Eve ("She's Out of My League," "Sex and the City 2"), Josh Peck (“The Wackness”) and Brian Geraghty (“The Hurt Locker”), there’s enough potential here to make you believe this is a movie worth looking forward to.
Instead, with those expectations up front, what you land with in the poorly-scripted, hilariously implausible and downright risible “ATM,” is a film that veers very close to embarrassing. Or, depending on your perspective, is a typically cheap, manipulative, poorly thrown-together B-movie horror/thriller.
Yet, whatever that POV might be, there’s no denying that “ATM” doesn’t work on any level, is frustratingly far-fetched and features characters behaving illogical and abandoning all basic reason, simply in the name of extending their perilous situation (which is the trope of modern horror much to the chagrin of intelligent audiences everywhere). In perhaps some corners of the movie-media universe, it’s the type of film that’s so poor it could lead one to say that Sparling’s career is now over. While we would like to refrain from that hyperbole, we’d be lying if we didn’t say that thought crossed our mind.
Directed by David Brooks (the 2009 short film thriller "Gone" that shouldn’t be confused with the 2011 Amanda Seyfried thriller of the same name), it’s clear that “ATM” is on shaky ground far before any of the horror/thriller mayhem starts.
From minute one, the writing of “ATM” seems — how do we say this politely — challenged and the set-up feels like a cheap afterthought to get things in motion. Josh Peck plays an obnoxious stock broker douchebag and Brian Geraghty plays a co-worker with a conscience, which sucks because he’s just demo’d some old man’s 401k savings with some bad investments. And Alice Eve is Emily, the elusive lady in the office that he hasn’t been able to man up and ask out and is about to leave the company.
But there’s one last chance at the Christmas party. Peck’s Cory character belittles Geraghty’s David to go ask Emily out and after some particularly wincing and hard-to-watch failed attempts, he finally strikes up the courage to do so (watching these two’s “nervous” interaction you’d imagine the characters are both thirteen and not twenty-something adults and professionals).
David offers Emily a ride home, but then Cory, who has been goading his friend for the entire opening of the movie to ask her out, suddenly and uncharacteristically sort-of cockblocks and also asks for a ride home. But his motivations soon become clear: he has no sexual designs on Emily, we’re just supposed to believe he’s insensitive and clueless enough to ask for a ride home even though his main motivation in the film thus far has been to get David to ask her out. Then, on the way home, Cory becomes hungry and makes everyone involved drive far out of the way so he can get some ATM money for pizza. Did we add it’s totally freezing out, Cory's broke and David’s obviously trying to get laid? Is it completely ridiculous that a young, arrogant, presumably cash-flush stock broker is dead broke and has to borrow money from his friend to buy pizza and cannot use his debit card to purchase it with? Fuck yes. And so inexplicable and behaviorally ludicrous are all these moves, it’s clear that the filmmakers here don’t really care about character: they’re trying to simply put three people into an “ATM” machine for an entire movie so some random lunatic can trap them in there, watch them nearly freeze to death and torment them, but actually never hurt them (even though it’s obvious he can do so at any time) unless they leave the confines of the unlocked and unprotected ATM machine.
And this is the manipulative, poorly-conceived single-setting conceit. Three co-workers (all of them apparently with terrible IQs since the most basic solutions to freedom are thought of far too late into the picture), a lunatic outside fucking with people for kicks, a freezing night and no one to be found for miles. What is meant to play out as increasingly desperate game of cat and mouse as the temperature continues to drop instead becomes a jaw-droppingly logic-free aggravation. Such horror constructions rely almost entirely on behavior and motivation for both terrorizers and victims to up the stakes and up the tension, but “ATM” is clueless in that department. People act how they act solely to benefit the paper-thin set-up.
Perhaps the idiot’s version of “Margin Call” or any recent post-bailout-economic crisis doc, if Brooks and Sparling are trying to make some sort of thinly veiled comment on retribution for moneyman scumbags, that connection is never ever made (the 401k thing is left to flap in the wind like a dangling chad, but the ambiguity doesn’t help as the loop simply hasn’t been closed). Infuriating, lazy and pitiable, we’re pretty sure the pincode for “ATM” when translated from numbers to letters is THISMOVIEFUCKINGSUCKS. [D-]