Note to characters in horror movies: it's probably not wise to say some variation of, "It's gonna be a great night," at the start of said film, because chances are you'll be dead before the end credits roll. This time-honored genre misstep is forebodingly made early on in "ATM," and before office workers David (Brian Geraghty), Emily (Alice Eve), and Corey (Josh Peck) know it, they're being held hostage at a desolate ATM by a parka-wearing psychopath. The film's setup is novel enough to be surprising that it's never been done before, but the screenplay by Chris Sparling (2010's "Buried
"), who knows his way around minimalist thrillers set in cramped quarters, can only be stretched so far before irritation takes over due to the number of opportunities foolishly missed by the trio of protagonists to get away.
On the night of their workplace's annual Christmas party, David finally gets the courage to talk to his longtime crush Emily. It's her last day of employment at the finance companyso, yes, bad timingbut David valiantly comes to her rescue when she can't get a cab and he offers to drive her home. Tagging along is mouthy co-worker Corey, who insists they stop at the title location so he can get some cash for an after-midnight pizza run. Once the three of them are inside the card-activated building, along comes a mysterious stranger hidden by the hood of his coat. They don't know who he is, but they do know they ought to be nervous, especially after a passing dogwalker is brutally attacked and killed before their very eyes. The lunatic can't get through the door, but as the wintry temperature sinks below zero and the killer goes about setting up traps outside, David, Emily and Corey will have to think fast if they have any hope for survival.
"ATM" is the directorial debut of David Brooks, a fitting project to cut one's teeth on since there are few characters and only one primary location. From these elements, it is up to the filmmakers to keep the entrapped people believably cornered and plausibly unable to escape. As they mention several times, though, there's three of them and only one of him. He doesn't have a gun, only a few tools, so it would be relatively easy to gang up on him if they had to. That their captor (who has apparently seen "Urban Legend
" one too many times) does not run, but simply walks like most horror villains do, gives them all the more of an advantage. The waiting game to see how things play out is involving on occasion and perhaps a little disconcerting, but rarely, if ever, truly scary. There are too many forehead-slapping moments, too much overt contrivance, and an anticlimactic conclusion that doesn't add up to as much as one hopes or expects. The actors, however, are amiable enough that it's too bad they don't have the luck to be in a romantic comedy.