APRIL 6, 2012
When the trailer for ATM first appeared a few months back, I defended it against some folks who were offering up things along the lines of "That is the stupidest concept I've ever heard for a movie, why would anyone see that?" While I had my doubts it would work, I think it's terrible to dismiss a movie on concept alone - otherwise I and a lot of others probably wouldn't have gone to see that movie about the guy who dresses like a bat fighting a clown. Silly ideas can be great movies, and I think cinema would be pretty goddamn boring if everything we saw held up to sound real world logic. As long as the filmmakers commit to their concept, however silly, a fun/good film can come from it.
However, ATM is not that film. The filmmakers do NOT commit to their idea; if anything the screenwriter seemingly forgot to do anything after coming up with the basic premise, more than likely after momentarily being scared to exit an ATM booth one night and thinking to himself "Hey... this might be a good idea for a movie!" on the way home. Christ, the movie burns through what little goodwill it has in the first 10-15 minutes, before they even get inside the damn thing! I sort of buy the reason they park so far away (the Josh Peck character - the one who wanted to use the ATM - was being a prick so it was his "punishment"), but why doesn't driver/hero Brian Geraghty pull up closer when Peck waves for him to help him in the ATM? And why does the girl (Alice Eve) get out of the car and walk into the cold booth to stay warm when she could have simply turned the damn car back on? She had the keys! Not to mention the reason they stop there in the first place, which is to get cash so they can buy pizza at a cash only joint, instead of just going to a 7-11 like a normal hungry person at 1 AM. Thus, by the time they get "trapped" inside the booth, I'm already having trouble getting into the movie, because it refuses to ever offer up a healthy dose of even movie logic.
Then it just gets worse, as the killer (dressed like the Urban Legend guy, which makes someone's mention of an "urban legend" kind of funny) doesn't really trap them inside, and in fact gives them plenty of chances to escape that they never make. Throughout the movie we see him doing SOMETHING on the other side of the booth (why he draws this part of his plan out for so long is another mystery), which means if they are quiet one person could slip out and get to safety before he even realizes that they've ran away, since he's ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE BUILDING. All they had to do was implement a chime or something that would go off when the door was opened to give their refusal to just leave some credibility, but no one involved was that clever. Instead, they just have one of them suggest there are "more of them" out there and thus they shouldn't risk it, which doesn't hold water because WE KNOW there aren't any more of them, as we saw him working out his plan (alone) in the opening scene! This sort of stuff has to convince the audience just as well as characters, otherwise it falls apart. Granted, a lot of movies don't make any damn sense if you think about it, but the difference between those and ATM is that the plot holes aren't practically spelled out for you.
And it gets worse. At one point one of them does finally opt to run away when the killer is preoccupied, only to get knocked on his back by an invisible trip wire he had set up at some point (something that should have happened sooner - this would have been a better excuse to keep them inside than what they offered). How they missed him setting it up is unknown, so let's just ignore that. Anyway, one of the others goes out to rescue him, and so you're thinking "OK now they run to safety or at least jump in the car that the (now dead) security guard arrived in, right?" Wrong - they fucking run back inside the booth! The car is actually closer to them than the booth, so this is just a giant "screw you, audience" moment, where the director and writer seem to be actively trying to annoy everyone that paid to watch their movie.
It also lacks any real tension. The killer can't get in, and they don't make much of an effort to get out, so the only time the movie comes to any sort of life (sadly) is when innocent people show up and get killed. A guy walking his dog (in the middle of a parking lot at 2 am on a freezing cold night?), some poor bastard trying to use the ATM, and a security guard (who apparently never has to check in with anyone since their absence is never investigated) give the movie some minor tension, because its unknown if they'll die instantly or survive long enough to add some actual wrinkles to the plot. Unfortunately, it's the former in both cases, and no one seems to notice that they're missing, despite the fact that the movie takes place over four hours or so.
The script can't be bothered to flesh out the characters at all, either. Everyone has one trait and seemingly no existence prior to today - no one mentions a roommate or loved one (or even a damn PET) that would wonder where they were; no one kills time talking about how they met or even cracks a joke about being late for work the next day or something. For a concept this flimsy, you'd think the screenwriter would try to focus on anything else he could to avoid having to put the characters in yet another inane situation, but he can't be bothered. Oddly, the only time they get personal doesn't even make sense - Peck's character discovers he is broke, which is why he calls in Geraghty, yet halfway through the movie Alice Eve suddenly wonders how he was able to get into the ATM in the first place if the magnetic strip on his card was disabled. Huh? Where the hell did she get that from? Peck even reprimands Geraghty for mocking his finances in front of her when she first entered the booth, so this just confused me to no end. And that it's the closest they ever really get to giving the characters any weight just makes it obnoxious on top of it.
But most frustrating is that the screenwriter is none other than Chris Sparling, who wrote the terrific Buried. Now, that film knew how to work around its limited concept by having Ryan Reynolds converse with family members and various government personnel in between far more effective survival moments (a snake, a fire, etc). Clearly, he knows how to handle this sort of claustrophobic horror/thriller movie, so why is this one such a mess? Which one is the fluke?
Oh, and the movie seems to suggest a sequel. The best thing about the film is watching the killer methodically map out his plan, including diagrams of the parking lot, the range of sight for the security cameras, what time the adjacent businesses close, etc. He covers all of his bases, and it's mildly entrancing watching him go about it. And since (spoiler) he gets away at the end (via a plot "twist" of sorts I wouldn't dare give away; if you're silly enough to check this thing out after reading this review you deserve to be as confounded as I was), the end credits show him mapping out potential targets - a small farm, a gas station, a mini-mart, etc. As a fan of the "trapped in a ____" genre, I would almost welcome it - the killer is clearly intelligent, and we learn nothing else about him here, so there's room to develop him into an iconic franchise icon. But they have to promise that future installments aren't this crushingly stupid and weightless.
What say you?