Retro Review: ATM (2012){0}

How many tight places can movie characters become stuck in? We’ve seen phone booths, ski lifts, and (of course) coffins in recent years, but here comes a trap for the modern age: the isolated, indoor ATM vestibule. I know I’ve seen a few of these things: obscure little islands of light that are sometimes tucked into the back of a mall parking lot. At the wrong time of night, a lonely ATM machine can be a pretty creepy place. So why not an all-in-one night horror flick in which three clueless idiots are trapped inside a glass box by a hood-wearing psycho killer?

Why not, indeed. To that end producers enlisted Chris Sparling, writer of the surprisingly clever Ryan Reynolds flick Buried, to expand his concept from one guy trapped in a wooden box to three people trapped in a glass booth. The result is entertaining, for the most part, but not nearly as crisp, clever or dramatically satisfying as the earlier movie. The set-up is enjoyably simple: a nice guy, an annoying jerk, and a pretty blonde are, for reasons best left to the screenplay, getting cash from an ATM vestibule around 1am, and when they turn to leave — they see a man: an instantly-menacing man in a big hooded coat. At first he’s just an intimidating figure, but that doesn’t last long: a random dog-walker is brutally murdered by the hooded stranger, and that’s when the wacky fun really begins.

Cleverly conceived (for such a skimpy concept) but clunkily presented (it’s edited together in weird ways), ATM will most likely hit your eyeballs as a VOD rental or a DVD rental, and that’s probably for the best. For every semi-clever twist or compelling idea there are three scenes that will have you (and your viewing partners) yelling at the screen. (I watched ATM with four serious film buffs, folks who generally do NOT talk during movies, but every one of us offered exclamations like “Why didn’t she just…?” and “Why didn’t he do that ten minutes ago!”) That’s not to say that ATM is a stupid movie; just that its characters frequently are, and that does, on occasion, suck some of the suspense out of the equation.

On the positive side, lead actors Brian Geraghty (the nice guy) and Josh Peck (the sleazy jerk) do good work with simple characters, and leading lady Alice Eve … well, she sure is pretty. There’s not much of a supporting cast to speak of, although the shadowy, hooded murderer does manage to build a little personality for himself. As the siege goes on he gets progressively crazier. And while ATM certainly does thumb its nose at common sense early and often, it also manages to build up a nice head of steam before presenting a third act that’s got some legitimately enjoyable lunacy in it.

It’s a simple concept with simple-minded characters, and a few good jolts when all is said and done. If you’ve already seen all the other “trapped in a {blank}” movies out there, then clearly you’re a fan of the sub-genre, which means you’ll see most of ATM coming, but probably not all of it. Plus, really, if they gave out an Oscar for Best Performance as a Jerk, then Josh Peck would get nominated for this movie. It’s actually quite something to see.