Director: David Brooks
Cast: Brian Geraghty, Alice Eve, Josh Peck
Plot: Three co-workers go to withdraw cash from an ATM only to be confronted by a hooded killer who starts up a cat and mouse game with them.
This is the kind of movie that B Movies do best. A simple set-up, a chilling thriller atmosphere and some good performances anchoring the story. Three co-workers at an accounting firm end up trapped in an ATM building, a masked killer patrolling the car lot outside. With not only this mystery man’s inexplicable need to kill, the three of them have to cope with a freezing temperatures and their own unravelling sanity. All the while, they try and figure out how to survive and why this stranger is even hunting them? Does he want their money? Is he a slighted customer one of them failed on the eve of Christmas? Does he want to punish Josh Peck for that god awful Drake and Josh show he was in?
ATM has received its fair share of negative reviews for being too simple. After introducing the three leads, the movie is trapped firmly in this small setting. Other than some brief escape attempts out in the eerie parking lot, they do not leave that tiny building. It is a case of the three of them coming up with plans and getting their confidence and sanity knocked back, as the mystery stalker counters in his cold, calculating ways. However, as someone who has seen far too many B Movies that try to do too much with their miniscule budget, I welcomed the simplistic approach to this story. The tension was well directed, taking a story that has been done a fair few times before and keeping it fresh and chilling. While I believe that ATM’s biggest flaw is the fact that it doesn’t really do anything new with the premise, what it does set its mind to, it does well. The gore is cleverly hidden, but the effect is still there. As the killer smashes a victim’s face in with a crowbar, we feel the violence behind the kill, not needing to see the bloody reality of it. It still works, perhaps even better with the censorship. The fun is in trying to figure out how the three protagonists are going to get away, or if they can even defeat this murderer. Sometimes, you will applaud them for coming up with a solution out of their situation only for the antagonist to do something brilliantly cunning to knock them right back to square one. It is a back and forwards tense battle of wits and I enjoyed it far more than I thought I would.
The ‘less is more’ style wouldn’t have worked if it wasn’t for a competent cast and well-written characters. The horror doesn’t kick in, until the director is happy we are familiar enough with each of the players to care about what is going to happen to them. Again, there isn’t anything too fresh with their stereotypes. We have a male hero and a female hero, who have just started flirting around the water cooler, nervously toying with the idea of going on a date together. The trio is rounded up with the funny best mate, who seems to enjoy third-wheeling his friend. On paper, they sound stale and routine. However, the cast and dialogue bring them to life. The couple are cute together, both of them just as awkward as each other. The romance card isn’t used recklessly. It is a neat trick to make the audience want them to make it through to the end of this nightmare. An even bigger surprise is Josh from Drake and Josh is actually funny, killing any esteem that this review has. People have complained that ATM is also surrounded by a fair share of plot holes. It is to be said that the killer does have a lot of good luck thrown his way, given all the space and time to carry out his schemes that he needs (it is vaguely explained, but the convenience still upsets the logic behind events). However, in my eyes, the actual narrative is designed to explore the psychology of the three trapped friends. As the night begins to descend and the temperature drives them insane, the bickering begins. Trust is misplaced and lost. Characters act out of character. Themes like fate and morality are brought up. ATM acts as a psychological experiment as well as a thriller. Even if it doesn’t push this as much as you want it to (this is a B Movie after all), it is smart enough to escape the usual dross I am saddled with these days.
Also, you end up hooked on this film on the off-chance, Josh from Drake and Josh is going to get a crowbar to the head.
Final Verdict: A pleasant surprise. There are gaps in logic and it is a very static affair, but the director plays his cards well enough to make an enjoyable thriller.