Thursday, August 29, 2013

It Came From The Video Store: ATM

ATM is a 2012 horror film directed by David Brooks. 

This movie is an example of what I've dubbed "Abandonment Horror," in which characters become trapped in a confined space, surrounded by certain death with no chance of escape (see Frozen, a film in which three skiers are stranded on a ski lift and surrounded by wolves, for another example of this sub-genre). 

The movie was written by Chris Sparling, who also wrote the screenplay for Buried, another sample of Abandonment Horror. Unfortunately ATM is far inferior to Buried, indicating that it may be time for Sparling to move on to another genre.

I get what the filmmakers were going for here; trying to instill a sense of menace, isolation and hopelessness inherent in urban life. They made a valiant attempt but ultimately this is a story that just can't work.


The Plot:
At his company's Christmas party, accountant David Hargrove finally summons the courage to speak to his beautiful coworker Emily Brandt. David offers to drive Emily home, but is coerced into bringing along obnoxious third wheel Corey Thompson (David needs to learn how to say no).

While driving through town, Corey forces David to stop at an ATM booth for money. Because David's an idiot, he "punishes" Corey by parking several hundred feet away from the deserted ATM and making him walk up to it.

Corey has trouble operating the machine so David and Emily, tired of waiting in the cold, enter the ATM to help. As they leave they're confronted by a mysterious figure wearing a hooded parka blocking their way. Afraid to exit, they remain inside the ATM booth, unsure of what to do.

Parka Man sees a passerby and savagely kills him. The three then realize they're trapped inside the small ATM booth, unable to leave lest they be attacked and killed as well. Parka Man then spends the rest of the night toying with and tormenting his captors.

• This is one of those films whose plot is so outrageously contrived that it can only work if all the characters act like complete and utter morons. If any of the characters had even once acted like a normal human being, even for a second, the entire story would collapse like a house of cards.

If David had told Corey "no" at any point during the Christmas party the movie would have stopped then and there. If David had parked next to the ATM instead of a hundred feet away they'd all have been fine. And if any of the characters had their cell phones on them (which every person on Earth does these days) instead of inexplicably leaving them all in the car, their ordeal would have lasted fifteen minutes at the most (if only).

After ten minutes of their idiocy and incompetence even the most sympathetic audience will start rooting for Parka Man.

• Once the characters are trapped, most viewers will spend the rest of the running time figuring out numerous ways to easily escape the ATM or alert the authorities. 

Case in point: Emily finally gets the bright idea to start a fire in a wastebasket to set off the sprinkler system, which will bring the fire department running. Unfortunately she doesn't think of this until six or seven hours into their ordeal. Most rational humans would have done this after five or ten minutes.

• The filmmakers practically pull a hamstring trying to make Parka Man into a new horror icon. He's got most of the requirements for the job: He's faceless, silent, superhumanly strong, able to rig elaborate (and impossible) traps and as a bonus he's got his own secret subterranean lair in which he can plan his improbable murder sprees.

Despite all that, it's unlikely that Parka Man will be joining Freddy, Michael, Leatherface and Jigsaw in the Slasher Pantheon.

• The location of the ATM booth deserves some scrutiny. Imagine an unlit parking lot that's a hundred square acres. Got it? Good. Now imagine there's a lone ATM booth plopped down in the exact center of this vast, dark empty space. 

Why the hell would they build it in the middle of the lot? Why wouldn't it be, oh I don't know, up by the freakin' street where people could actually see it and have easy access to it? How the hell would you spot it or get to the thing when the parking lot was full of cars?

• At one point Corey decides to make a run for it to get help. He checks to see if Parka Man is outside, doesn't see him and sprints across the parking lot. He almost makes it but at the last second is clothes-lined and incapacitated by a thin, taut, virtually invisible wire that Parka Man has strung across the parking lot.

To what are the ends of this wire attached? As I mentioned earlier, this parking lot is vast, empty and wide. Parka Man would need several hundred feet of wire to stretch across its width. He'd also need to use a freakin' bulldozer to pull a five hundred foot wire taut enough to keep it from sagging in the center and make an effective booby trap. 

• Late in the film Parka Man pins the ATM door shut with David's car. He then drags what appears to be a fire hose (?) over to the ATM and begins filling it with water to drown the characters inside. Apparently Parka Man is a fan of old Warner Bros. cartoons.

When David first sees that the car's pinning the door shut, it's obvious that it can still be opened slightly, maybe six inches or so. Why couldn't he just prop the door open so the booth wouldn't fill with water?

• Part of Parka Man's plan involves targeting David and framing him for all his crimes. At the end of the film when the police finally arrive, they find this planted evidence and arrest David, thinking he's the one responsible for all murder and mayhem. Several things here.

First of all, Emily's death was a freak accident. There's no way Parka Man could have known it was going to happen. So why go to all the trouble of trying to frame David? Emily could have just confirmed David's innocence. I suppose maybe Parka Man was intending to eventually kill her as well and her death was an unexpected bonus for him, but… seems like a stretch to me.

Secondly, things definitely look bad for David at the end (he actually did kill the innocent janitor after all), but surely some of the night's events would cause the police to question his guilt in ALL the events and murders.

For example, why would he disable the engine in his own car? How could he have blocked the door with his own (dead) car and get back inside the ATM? Why would he flood the ATM and then wait inside it to drown? Why would he let Emily write "HELP" on the window if he was trying to kill her? How would he have pried open the back door of the ATM (in order to flood it) without tools? Surely there'd be forensic evidence that Corey was killed outside and then dragged back in, which David wouldn't have done if he was the killer. 

If David gets a decent lawyer he could probably plea bargain his case down to manslaughter at the most.

• This has nothing to do with the storyline, but on the DVD extras, the film crew is quite proud of the fact that they built a special working ATM booth just for the film. 

Wow, you guys built a fifteen by twenty foot glass shelter with a door and lights inside it? That is impressive. I bet no one's ever built anything that large or complicated for a film before. Not even for Titanic.

A valiant effort at urban claustrophobia that unfortunately can't and doesn't work. I give it a D+.

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