ATM (2012)

Directed By: David Brooks
Written By: Chris Sparling
Starring: Josh Peck
  Alice Eve
  Josh Geraghty

Fear of enclosed spaces has strangely little to do with this tense, surprisingly effective, little thriller set largely within the confines of an ATM vestibule, which is of course located in the middle of nowhere.

Starring Nickelodeon teen royalty Josh Peck and Alice Eve, the girl who’s more famous for prancing around in her undies aboard the Star Trek Enterprise than anything else, ATM takes place over the course of one, freezing cold, ill-fated night, as three work colleagues find themselves trapped inside the titular structure, and terrorised by a hooded, masked assailant. With a setup as stupidly simple as this one, there’s not really much room for the story to grow and, one would assume, for many scares or much fun to be had.

After the three protagonists have exhausted every possible opportunity to be rescued – from wrecking the bank machine itself in order to rig the alarm, to flagging down a cop car – they begin to turn their attention inwards, turning on themselves and, naturally, each other as old scores are settled and the necessary navel-gazing occurs to make way for an ultimately unfounded belief that everything happens for a reason, and they are therefore all deserving of their fate.

What’s striking about ATM is just how much it does within its own limited confines. The three stars play, essentially, little more than stock characters – Peck is the mouthy asshole, Brian Geraghty the well-meaning nice guy and Eve the eye candy – but none of them really need to be particularly likable, or even very interesting, to inspire some sympathy in what is clearly a desperate, hopeless situation that simply escalates further and further into madness. As the drama unfolds, it feels real, as though it could happen to anyone, at any time.

Though the trailer makes it seem like typical stalk-and-slash, by the numbers fare, ATM manages to make its central scenario seem not just believable, but ultimately quite terrifying, too. The masked assailant, concealing his identity beneath a furry, hooded winter jacket (to signify that freezing to death overnight is a genuine reality) is first shown making his plans at the beginning of the movie, which makes him slightly more of a character than he has any right to be. Nothing is really learned about him otherwise, but that somehow makes him more enticing as a villain.

The film draws comparisons mostly with Adam Green’s far superior Frozen, which also pitched three young people against freezing temperatures, in a seemingly helpless situation. The difference here is that, although escape seems impossible, there is a sense that the circumstances aren’t quite as dire. Some of the characters’ actions don’t quite make sense, for example why they don’t just rush the dude immediately, considering there are three of them and only one of him, but as the tension mounts, even the smallest thing is amplified.

Funnily enough, one of the key moments of terror occurs when the group realises that the locked door they believe they are safely concealed behind is actually open, meaning there is little but glass between them and the stranger trying to kill them. When he does murder someone viciously, and in cold blood, right in front of them, it’s another moment of brutal clarity that roots ATM in horrifying reality – the premise seems stupid, but once everything starts going to shit, it suddenly starts feeling more and more likely.

Considering this is director David Brooks’ first feature, it’s a remarkably restrained, quietly tense exercise in pure, inescapable fear and desperation. Although there is no score to speak of, and the locations are limited to just two (one, really), it feels like a much bigger film than it is, and the central premise is simple, yet strong. Chris Sparling, who also scripted the Ryan Reynolds trapped-in-a-box thriller Buried, manages to indulge in several clichés, without succumbing to the hysterical slasher norm – these may be stock characters, but they all exist in various offices.

Although it was critically panned, and didn’t even receive a UK release, ATM amounts to much more than the sum of its parts. It wraps itself up a little too neatly in the dénouement, but this could easily be chalked up to first-time director’s nerves. A thrilling, interesting and ultimately very clever chiller, it’s currently lurking on UK Netflix, amongst trash that is far less deserving of your attention.

It may not seem like the most enticing prospect, but there are far worse places to be trapped on a Saturday night.

Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

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