Have you ever driven across one of those huge parking lots at your local mall at night? You know most of the time nothing much happens there, but what if it did? What if you went to get some money and some lunatic starts to threaten you. That’s exactly what happens to Emily, David and Corey after they leave the annual Christmas party. They are being stalked by a homicidal maniac who for no apparent reason want to kill them. As time moves on the situation becomes more tense.
I always hold out hope that a movie is better than I expect it to be. ATM starts off fine with a moody credits sequence and a halfway decent introduction to our heroes, David, an investment banker with a conscience, Corey, who is the office jerk, and Emily, a stunning young lady who David has a crush on. David finally musters the courage to ask out Emily to lunch and even offers her a ride home, but Corey wants a ride as well and tags along. Instead of going straight home they stop at an ATM to get some cash. Big mistake. This is the beginning of a nightmare.
ATM is written by screenwriter Chris Sparling, who also wrote the far superior claustrophobic thriller Buried. With ATM he tries to continue this sense of claustrophobia by putting the protagonists in a glass box instead of a wooden one. The idea is amazing, the execution is only moderately successful. First-time feature film director David Brooks, who made an excellent short film called Gone in 2009, has a good idea what he wants to do. He uses the fluorescent lighting inside the booth and the local lightning in the parking lot to great effect to create a chilling environment for his movie. Unfortunately the screenplay doesn’t help him in any away.
Every time Brooks tries to do something cool with his movie the screenplay throws him a curveball that he just can’t hit. There are just too many incredulous elements to the story to make this into a coherent movie. For example: Why does everybody park so far from the ATM booth? Is it so much trouble to park next to the booth when it’s freezing cold outside. The same goes for the security officer who arrives at the scene later in the movie. I’ll bet he would have been of much more use if he could actually have heard what the victims were saying. Another thing is that the villain wears a dark jacket with a fur-lined hoody. Conveniently for the movie a lot of other people wear the same type of jacket so mistaken identities become an easy way out. These are some of the many plot holes ATM boasts. What started out as a reasonable thriller turns into a startling display of poor screenwriting. Especially the ending is incredibly unsatisfying. Here be spoilers.
I have nothing against a plot twist. The good ones can be incredible and some even enhance your subsequent viewings of a movie. Not so with ATM. Here the plot twist comes totally out of the blue and makes no sense whatsoever. The movie implies that the killer is somebody who targets these locations because of their surroundings. It doesn’t matter who gets caught in the mayhem, as long as somebody gets killed and he gets away with it. This makes his quite a scary killer. Somebody with that amount of disregard for human life is always scary. Curiously the movie also implies an elaborate plot engineered by the villain to frame David, the insecure one of the three. This would indicate a relationship between David and the villain. It seems that ATM doesn’t want to choose between these two versions of the story and with that it leaves a lot of questions to be answered.
If you want a proper claustrophobic thriller, I would recommend Phone Booth or Buried. Those are two movies, while also not perfect, still maintain an air of plausibility for the viewer to enjoy. ATM doesn’t and is therefore doomed to go down in history as a failed first-time effort from a talented young director.