Someone's in the house. He's watching. He's creeping round, only you can't see him. He's watching you from the walls. He's right behind you now. Looking over your shoulder. He wants the remote control. He's a bad boy. He wants to watch bad movies. Bad bad Ronald...

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Peephole Review: ATM is Out of Order

Sometimes you just wanna sit down for some mindless fun, and have some easy thrills and chills. And sometimes what you get is some mindless writing and directing. ATM is not a complete dud.  It had some moments (none of which I can particularly recall, at this moment), but everything gets unraveled by a ridiculously convoluted wrap-up ending.

To the strains of Silent Night, an unidentified man peruses some blueprints and satellite Google maps, warming his toes with an electric space heater, as he plots out diagrams and angles.  The pre-credit action concludes with the man pulling on a black winter parka with a fuzzy snorkel hood. Cut to young upwardly mobile dude making his way to slag the phones at a big city financial firm.  As he trudges through the crowded streets, shots of crime scene tape and body bags zip past.  The tension is surely intended.

The young man finds himself in a pickle when he has to report to a client that he's wasted their investment away to nothing.  What's worse is that the co-worker he's been hopelessly pining over is leaving the firm.  His last chance to make any kind of contact with her is at the office Christmas party.  Naturally, his goofball buddy goads him on, reminding him of what a loser he is.  He finally manages enough backbone to offer the girl a ride home, only to be cackblocked by his goofball buddy.  Next thing he knows, he's at an ATM, getting cash out to pay for the third wheel's late night munchie attack.

Unwittingly, the trio of office workers have fallen into the icy web of the killer in a snorkel hood, locking themselves inside the ATM kiosk after seeing the ominous figure outside the doors. For the next hour is a cat-and-mouse game, as the hooded killer terrorizes the trio, preventing them from escaping, and brutally and mercilessly smashing anyone who tries to help.

The gimmick of people under attack (by wildlife or maniacs) in an isolated space has become a common in horror (Open Water, Frozen, Inside...), and really, the success depends upon how the filmmaker builds the tension. Director David Brooks and writer Chris Sparling do a fine job keeping the obstacles coming, and keeping them relatively believable (if not predictable).  But the unraveling all comes in the last moments of the film.

There's nothing worse than a horror/thriller movie where everything simply falls into place, just so, so that the end twist will work perfectly.  All the obstacles dropped in the way of the trio, like I said, worked within the context of the action. All the meticulous planning we saw at the open of the movie had paid off, and the killer worked all the physical angles to successfully trapped his prey. Cool!  Not only did the killer blueprint his attack, but he also relied on some common human fear, to manipulate his victims to do things they probably never would have done in their normal everyday lives.  Wow! A cunning and crafty killer at work -- how fun! This would have been a fine enough story, had the filmmakers left it at that.  But, they had to go add their clever twist.  A twist that fails the entire film.

 (enter spoiler alert here) 

The cunning and smart hunter not only manipulated the physical elements of his "game," AND has manipulated the actions of the prey... but the twist also finds the killer manipulating pure coincidence to target all blame for the violence surrounding the entire event fully onto the young finance worker.  This twist worked very well in Wolf Creek, frustrating the audiences who watched helplessly as the sole survivor of the Outback killer's torturous mayhem gets arrested and charged with the murders. It's a twist that works because of the tenuous relationships, the isolated setting, and the physical evidence and assumptions determined by the police.  Sparling and Brooks weren't confident enough to leave it up to that.  Too bad.  Instead, they convolute the young man's actions to coincide with the intervals of the timed recordings of the ATM security camera.  So, what they are asking us to believe is that the killer not only manipulates the friends, turning them on each other with fear, but that the camera miraculously only rolls when the guy 1.) accidentally shoves the girl to the floor. 2.) He grapples with his buddy, and then 3.)Grabs at the knife put into the chest of his friend, by the killer.  Not only that, the camera rolls on NOTHING but the violent actions of the young man. To the police, this is all the visual evidence they need to pin the crimes on the young man.  He's violent, he shoves his friends around, and he has the knife in his hand.  Case closed.  What a genius the killer is, that he can control fate, on top of all things.  But, could the killer have manipulated the ATM camera, you ask?  If he had, they didn't show it.  And that would've exonerated the young man, once they cops discovered that.

So, all in all, I can't recommend ATM.  The twist is nothing but a setup, and the plot and action never rise to the occasion.   You're better off getting your money out somewhere else -- this ATM is out of order.


  1. You misunderstood the end. The video was not manipulated to only show the times the young man acts aggressively. Rather, those were the only moments that mattered to the police (and therefore the audience), because every other moment would showed the characters just standing around.

    As for controlling fate, he didn't plan anything more than not being seen on camera. He didn't plan to set up the young man, it just worked out that way.

  2. If you go back and look at the finale, you'll find that for the first 30 seconds of the montage -- where they watch the recordings from the ATM camera -- we see what the police are watching on their digital player. Then the tape starts cutting back and forth from the "real" events to the ATM camera. What the police are watching, in those first 30 seconds, is the event being recorded in intervals -- it records a few seconds, pauses, records a few seconds, pauses...

    If the cops saw the entire event recorded, they wouldn't be carting the innocent victim away -- would they? There was more going on (if the entire tape was watched) that would exonerate him then condemn him.

    As for the killer manipulating the recording -- I didn't say he did that, or mean to imply that. What I meant to say was that in order for the innocent dude to be blamed for all of this, coincidence certainly needed to fall into place exactly as planned... and yeah, that is an oxymoron.

  3. In all honesty, ATM had a small chance to be modern day thriller. The actors are decent. They can certainly get into character and that's were it all ends. All logic and common sense goes out the window from the point they reach the ATM, and park 100 damn feet from it. LOL. The thought process these 3 main characters go through trying to escape one man, leads me to believe Poppa Smurf could have held them hostage at Disneyland. Successfully. Forever.

    Everything the ATM "stalker villain" does makes sense, because the 3 captives simply have zero.

    Watch this flick if you're a fan of "b" movies, or simply bored and want to pick it apart and cringe and a very bad script. Again, I think the writers and directors could have had something, if only they put in a bit more thought. Great idea, horrible execution.