★ / ★★★★
After a Christmas party, three co-workers decide to carpool home. Corey (Josh Peck) needs cash so David (Brian Geraghty) pulls his car over at the nearest ATM, this one an enclosed space, surrounded by glass, with only one door that requires a bank card to open. Noticing that Corey is taking too long, David checks up on his friend to see what is wrong. Emily (Alice Eve), scared of staying in the car by herself, follows the two guys. It turns out that Corey’s card is not working. Just when they are about to leave, a man wearing a parka (Mike O’Brian) stands from a couple feet away, just observing them. Unsure of the man’s intentions, the three choose to stay inside which quickly proves to be a correct decision as the man kills a potential witness right in front of them.
Based on the screenplay by Chris Sparling, given that “ATM” seems intent in playing the “What would you do in this scenario?” game, which can be fun in theory, it backfires because the characters are not very smart. They work in finance so one might think they have a certain level of logic or are capable of thinking outside the box when the situation calls for it. It is most frustrating that the more obvious courses of action are saved much later on when they neither have the energy nor the focus required to come out on top.
I wondered why the screenplay consistently fails to provide the trio more chances to fight back and challenging itself to come up with more twists and turns instead of relying on the characters standing around, arguing, and attempting to break one of the machines in hopes that the proper authorities will be alerted. Watching figures on screen panic is boring unless they are believable and the script has found a way to make them relatable. If the images are more about behavior rather than the experience, the film fails to work as a thriller.
The characters are not devoid of personality but are nonetheless unexciting. Corey is the one who constantly speaks out of turn and whose sarcastic remarks convey a transparent self-loathing. David, a well-meaning and quiet guy, does not feel like his job is rewarding on a personal level. Meanwhile, Emily is David’s object of affection and is looking forward to leaving the company in a few weeks.
I could not help but wonder if they would have shared more chemistry and had been more believable if older actors were casted. While all three are easy on the eyes, they possess neither the angst nor a semblance of experience of being consumed in a cutthroat profession.
On the bright side, there are some nifty things performed by the killer to coax his victims out of the building. For example, I was amused by the fact that he actually brings a fold-up chair so he can sit and watch how the trio might try to get out of… difficult situations. We have to wonder: there has to be a reason why this man is enjoying his victims’ suffering. However, the final scenes suggest otherwise which do not match the images we had sat through. In a way, by using a negative twist, the film, directed by David Brooks, circumvents explanations that we are entitled to receive.