In my opinion, there are 3 categories that horror movies normally fall under. There are the Good, movies that are legitimately creepy, that scare and terrify with perfect precision. These films are well put together, tell a good story, and engross the viewer with their world. These would be your Halloween and Aliens flicks. There are the Bad, flicks that are cheesy and shlocky beyond belief. They are still good, however, in that people can find enjoyment in the bad special effects and hokey acting. This is where Troll 2 would land. Then there's the Ugly, films so bad that people feel dumber for having wasted time on them. These movies seem to actively insult the audience. ATM falls firmly and neatly into the Ugly.
|Parkas are scary, right?|
I find myself lacking the energy or brain capacity to accurately describe the plot. So I’ll just let Netflix do it for me: “When three co-workers make a midnight stop at a glass-enclosed ATM after their Christmas party, they find themselves trapped by a menacing man outside. Soon they’re fighting for their survival as the temperature plunges and the man toys with them.” Almost sounds exciting when they put it that way.
The main problem of this movie is apparent from the first 5 minutes. The dialogue and writing are abysmal. Truly and completely cringe-worthy. When the characters aren't being horrendously awkward and hard to watch, they’re being insanely stupid and assholish. Every word out of their mouths felt like a slap in my face. I can’t even call these characters generic. They’re not characters, they’re plot devices in human form. They do nothing that makes them seem like they have brains. Every move they make just feels like so much complete and utter idiocy.
Reading the premise, you’re probably reminded of Phone Booth, a suspense thriller where a man is trapped in a phone booth (duh) by a sniper. Here’s the main difference between the two. Phone Booth features a legitimate threat: a man with a gun pointed at the main character’s head. And it’s not a random shooting either. That villain had a plan and would stop at nothing to see his plan through. ATM features one unarmed "big-looking" guy that has no real character of his own because he never says a word or shows his face, doesn’t seem to be smarter than anyone else, and ultimately does not care who he’s killing as long as he’s killing someone. Do you see the difference? If not, let me explain.
Phone Booth’s killer is so much stronger as a character because he actually has a presence. He’s a character in and of himself, not just a threat. He shows off his smarts and his shooting skills with every move he makes. ATM’s killer feels like a big mannequin that looks scary but as soon as you knock it over, it’s basically useless. Simply put, he just never felt threatening.
I wanted to say “Well, at least the acting was half-way decent” but that’s just not true. The acting for this movie can’t be called acting. It can be called yelling and screaming and waving your arms around, but not acting. This is no fault of the actors, as they did a fine job with what they had. The problem is, they had NOTHING.
Ultimately, this failure can be summed up with one word: BORING. It’s a semi-smart sounding premise with terrible execution, writing that goes far beyond bad, and zero suspense. Don’t even waste your time on this, let alone your money. Instead, I suggest sitting on a bench and watching people use an actual ATM for an hour and a half. You’ll get more enjoyment out of it.
(Editor's Note: this post originally appeared on Richard's Weekly Journal on June 12, 2013.)