David Brooks’s ATM is a film that has a flawed premise almost from the very start. Brooks and his screenwriter, Chris Sparling, who have obviously seen Phone Booth one too many times, thought that perhaps they could transfer the tension and suspense of that great little film to another location and still have it be just as effective. Sadly, they were quite mistaken in their endeavor.
The story involves David (Brian Geraghty), Corey (Josh Peck), and Emily (Alice Eve), who are all coworkers attending their office’s Christmas party. David finally gets the nerve to ask Emily out for lunch, but for the time being, he manages to talk her into letting him drive her home. However, he has also told Corey that he would drive him home as well. On the way, Corey convinces David to stop at an ATM so that he can take out some money to get some food, despite it being after midnight at this point.
On their way out of the ATM, they notice a man shrouded in a parka standing several feet away from the door. Unsure of what he wants, they stand in the ATM building guessing as to why he’s there. When a man walking his dog comes near, the stranger in the parka walks over and violently kills him, causing David, Corey, and Emily to freak out. With their only protection being that you need a bank card to get into the ATM building, these three must figure out a way to escape before the man in the parka does the same to them.
The premise here is flawed for two major reasons. First off, there’s no tension. These three are not trapped for the whole film and could conceivably leave whenever they want during this time. It’s not like Phone Booth where the victim was truly trapped because he had no idea where the killer was, but he did know that he had his sights set right on him and could finish him at any time. In ATM, there are several chances for the victims to get away when the killer is occupied and not watching what they’re doing.
Secondly, related to the first flaw is the second: the fact that there is an easy way out and the main characters are too dumb to take it. In this sense, it reminded me a lot of another film from just two years ago called Frozen, where the solution to the plight of three friends stuck on a ski lift was so painfully obvious, and yet, none of them are able to figure it out, leading to some needless deaths.
Likewise, the solution to the problem in ATM is painfully obvious, but the film wants us to believe that these three can’t figure it out. What makes matters worse is that one of the characters points out that there’s three of them and only one of him, and yet, this is never acted on. This would be understandable if the killer was some kind of bodybuilder or something, but no, he’s a regular sized person wearing a parka. Their inability to realize that the three of them could take one person also ends up leading to some unfortunate and needless events.
This complete lack of brainpower does exactly what it did for Frozen in that all the audience can do is sit back and shake their heads at the victims for not being able to see the easy solution. Because of this, there is no connection to the characters and no sympathy to be had for them. The same could be said for the first flaw. Since none of them think of trying to get away while the killer is occupied and not watching them, there’s no reason to pity them since they don’t take the chance to escape when they can.
The ending also has a pretty big flaw to it in that the screenwriter chose to add in an extremely large coincidence to allow the plot to go in the direction that he wanted. The coincidence was not believable in the least, nor did it make any sense given the circumstances. Sparling also wrote the film Buried, where he had a lot of trouble building any tension or suspense as well, and where he also had trouble with the ending, except in that case, it was just far too predictable to be a surprise.
Even if the ending had been fixed, it still wouldn’t have been interesting, and if the biggest flaws of the film had been dealt with, there wouldn’t have been much of a film to watch, just like if the victims of Frozen had figured out that they could simply form a human chain to get themselves down, the film would have wrapped up rather quickly. Some premises may seem interesting on paper, but even at the script stage, someone ought to have noticed how many holes were present in this story.
ATM's flawed premise leads to a film that lacks the necessary tension and character development to keep the audience engaged in the story. Furthermore, the characters' unwillingness to act on their situation merely makes for a very frustrating film.