Within the broad category of Thrillers there is the subsection of Thrillers That Are Set in Small, Confined Spaces That Only Require One Set and Can’t Hold More Than a Few Characters and Are Therefore Much Cheaper to Make Than Other Movies. We’ve seen suspense films set in lifeboats, stalled elevators, wrecked automobiles, lonely parking garages, and abandoned ski lifts. Remember when Ryan Reynolds woke up in a coffin? That movie was called Buried (working title: D*** in a Box), and its writer, Chris Sparling was so emboldened by its relative success that he asked himself: Could I write a good movie set entirely in an ATM vestibule? The answer was no, but he did it anyway.
The movie is called ATM, because why waste creativity on a title? It’s about three idiots who stop at a freestanding ATM booth in a desolate parking lot late one night and, in a classic use of the literary conflict Man vs. Man’s Own Stupidity, are gradually defeated by the forces of Darwinism. As with many bad horror movies, the terror we are supposed to feel on behalf of the characters is diminished by our certainty that everything bad that happens to them is their own fault.
The dummies in question are twentysomethings named David (Brian Geraghty), Emily (Alice Eve), and Corey (Josh Peck), employees at a financial firm who are heading home from the company Christmas party very late on a cold winter’s night that was so deep. David and Emily have as-yet-unconsummated crushes on each other like a couple of moony eighth-graders; third-wheel Corey is the Wacky Friend who demands that David give him a ride home even though David is very clearly trying to score with Emily.
With those contrivances established, the following things happen:
– They stop at an ATM because they’re hungry and the specific place they want to get food doesn’t take debit cards and nobody has any cash.
– This is a large city with presumably hundreds of cash machines, but they choose the ATM vestibule that stands by itself in the middle of a shopping center parking lot in a part of town where no cars ever drive past, not one car all night long.
– David deliberately parks the car about 30 yards from the ATM so Corey will have to walk in the cold.
– But then Corey beckons for David to join him in the vestibule (his card isn’t working), and then Emily comes over to see what’s taking so long, and so now all three of them are in the ATM vestibule.
– And they all left their phones in the car.
Cash acquired, they’re about to leave when they see a man in a parka standing outside between them and the car. He could be waiting to use the ATM — OR HE COULD BE WAITING TO MURDER THEM ALL. David and Emily are positive it’s the second thing. Corey isn’t so sure, but his bravery only extends as far as saying, “Nah, I’m sure he’s just waiting to use the ATM” and then cowering in the vestibule with the other two.
Let me be clear here. The parka man has made no threatening movements and holds no weapons. For all we know, he is just an off-course Eskimo. Also, there is only one of him. Our heroes, two grown men and an adult woman, are terrified of the possibility of a lone stranger accosting them as they walk back to their car 100 feet away. How do they survive the ordinary terrors of city life? I only live in Portland and I see people who alarm or unsettle me every time I leave the house. These craven tools must soak their respective pants with coward’s pee on a daily basis.
Okay, to be fair, while they’re standing in the vestibule watching him, the parka man does kill a guy. Some poor schmuck is out walking his dog (in subzero temperatures at 2 in the morning in a non-residential neighborhood), and Parka Man beats him to death. It’s pretty annoying, because it validates the ATM trio’s baseless fears. They assume they’re safe if they stay inside the booth, though, because you can’t get in without swiping your ATM card, and what are the chances a psycho killer is part of the elite group of people who have bank accounts?
So there you go. David, Emily, and Corey have no way to summon help and no way to escape from their ATM panic room (other than just, you know, leaving). When they discover that the vestibule door doesn’t actually lock, and that there’s nothing preventing the killer from coming in, and that the ATM vestibule is therefore not any safer than the parking lot, they still do not revise their strategy. The killer frequently disappears for several minutes at a time (which would seem to be a good opportunity for skedaddling), but it’s not till he cuts the power to the booth and they start freezing that anyone suggests making a run for it — and even then, Corey goes alone, David and Emily staying behind to shout encouragement from the non-safety of their unprotected glass icebox.
Does a security guard happen to drive past and immediately get killed by Parka Man before he can alert police? You know the answer to that question. You’ve seen movies before.
Does the killer burst into the vestibule and get attacked by Corey and David, who choke him to death with the chain that attaches the pen to the cash machine, only it turns out it’s not the killer but a random innocent bystander who happens to be wearing a similar parka? Yes to that too!
It’s hard to choose, but I think my favorite dumb thing that happens in this movie is when they try to get by setting off what turns out to be the world’s least sensitive smoke detector. A cigarette lighter doesn’t do the trick, so they start a fire in the wastebasket, and then it STILL doesn’t go off so they hold the wastebasket up directly under the smoke detector, and Emily has to sit on David’s shoulders in order to get it close enough, and she sets off the alarm but falls off of David and whacks her head on the counter.
What’s most disheartening about ATM is that it’s as dumb and implausible as you’d expect it to be when you hear the premise. Merely summarizing the plot counts as giving it a scathing review. It’s nice when screenwriters stretch themselves by tackling tricky story concepts, but adding “all the characters are impossibly timid imbeciles” as an extra challenge just seems unfair.
NOTE: You can’t prove that ATM wasn’t inspired by this episode of Friends.