“Ahh, This Movie!” “Are They Mental?” Both are acronyms I made up to go along with ATM‘s brand of painful, nearly braindread thrills, if that’s what you want to call them. The premise stands on shaky ground to begin with, but filmmakers have worked with less than this before – the Ryan Reynolds’-helmed Buried comes to mind, a film that takes place nearly entirely underground in an enclosed casket and yet still manages to keep a steadier pulse than this film.
Granted, director David Brooks makes a bold move to even try to direct a film that would have best worked as a short television episode. David (Brian Geraghty), Emily (Alice Eve), and Corey (Josh Peck) decide to ditch the company Christmas party on a cold winter’s night to head home, but before they make it to the warm confines of their apartments, they stop at an indoor ATM to get some money out for Corey’s late-night pizza craving. Once there, the trio find that they’ve been blockaded by a large man in a winter parka who stands outside of the ATM’s door menacingly, just waiting for them to make their next move.
Initially, this is a cool setup – not very original, but different enough to warrant maybe an episode on a Tales from the Crypt-esque special. And ATM is pretty good about developing its characters, at least at first; David’s a driven businessman surrounded by people more successful than he is, while Corey’s the kind of douchebag that thinks he’s funny even when no one else likes him. The first few scenes of the film find David and Corey talking about women and Christmas parties and losing people’s 401(k)’s; Corey might be one of the most annoying characters in the film, but at least he has a personality, and Peck plays it out as though he doesn’t realize the rest of the film is unsaveable, even if he puts in some effort.
Emily, however, is a vapid excuse for a character. She’s thrown into the mix as the sort of cute, girl-next-door type that we’re supposed to believe is too shy to even talk to David. These early romance scenes are excruciatingly corny, the sort of thing that makes you want to vomit all over the television in a fit of rage. Real people are hopefully not like this, and if they are, they probably won’t find someone just like them.
But ATM has a difficult time figuring out what normal people would do in any situation. Corey, being the overly-annoying person that he is, decides he wants to stop at an ATM and get pizza. David denies until he can’t take it anymore, then gives in. After they’re trapped in the ATM, both try to blame the other for the mess that they’re in – but in reality, no one is really at fault here, and anyone using half a brain would realize this.
It’s not the only strange event, though. Everything about ATM is stretching reality into some blurred distortion that only makes sense because it simply has to or else risk everything. The idea that three people could be goaded into standing in a freezing cold ATM building is somewhat preposterous; against one man, these three people should be able to, at most, scatter enough where even if one gets caught, the other two could come to the rescue. Even if you can get over that hump, though, there are three more bad decisions that the characters make to completely tear you away from the tension.
And even then, that’s whatever little tension ATM can dish out. It’s not a lot. Watching three people stand around near an ATM machine is about as interesting as it sounds – not very. It would help if these scenes were spaced out by backstory or anything furthering the pointlessness of this isolated moment, but instead Brooks forces the viewer to watch as the three argue, bicker, and figuratively sit with their thumbs up their asses.
This is also what our killer is doing. His presence is meant to be imposing; he’s a large guy with a parka standing out in the freezing cold in a wide stance, a shadowy figure that stands between the victims’ freedom. Yet it’s all incredibly nonsensical to think of this guy as someone who will brave below-zero temperatures just to watch his victims squirm inside a glass cage. What’s more, if it’s so miserable for us as viewers to watch Corey and David struggle to keep their shit together, then it must be super excruciating to watch it in real life. It just doesn’t make any sense, and even when the conclusion tries to sort all of it out with a really, really forced twist, everything kind of feels like a waste of time.
Hell, the killer even pulls out a lawn chair for the last act, like an eskimo kicking back in his igloo for some drama. That’s the sort of laziness that runs rampant in ATM - moments of nothingness that never even pretend like the film’s going to get any better. When the best part of the movie is Josh Peck acting like an asshole, you know you’ve got a real dud on your hands. (I’m sorry, Josh Peck, but you can do better than this. Don’t let the whole Amanda Bynes fiasco drag you down. Nickelodeon’s a good job reference.)
In short, I’m sure there’s a lot of people who want to withdraw their investment from ATM. Cue cymbal splash, and mercifully turn this film off.