A spatially contained thriller loosely in the same vein as P2 and The Perfect Host, ATM squanders the participation of a solid young cast, fumbling away viewer sympathy and engagement with a string of increasingly harebrained scenarios. Audiences will feel as ripped off by ATM as they would be by exorbitant user fees at the namesake devices.
After having long nursed a crush on sweet co-worker Emily (Alice Eve), slightly bumbling David (Brian Geraghty) finally gets up the nerve to haltingly ask her out at the company Christmas party. She agrees, and they start to leave early from the party. Thwarting David's plans, however, is his chatty, cock-blocking friend Corey (Josh Peck), who was using David as his designated driver. The plan then becomes to drop him off first, but, wanting food and needing cash, Corey makes them stop at desolate parking lot ATM. What should be a routine transaction soon turns into a fight for survival when an unknown man (Mike O'Brien) appears outside, blocking their collective exit. Inane cat-and-mouse shenanigans ensue.
Unfolding in December in the wintry Northeast, ATM sets the bar for implausibilities quite high, and then keeps raising it via stupid narrative choices both large and small. First, the film is set in a stand-alone ATM in the middle of a parking lot, which is exceedingly rare if such structures even still exist. Then ATM posits that the group is immediately cowed by the mere appearance of this guy, before he's even demonstrated any requisite bloodthirst.
It goes without saying, too, that David of course parks his car sufficiently far away enough from the structure to prevent any escape while still setting up air-quote tense dashes back and forth to the car. Perhaps most ridiculously, however, the film indulges weather-related panic; "Daylight is hours away, we'll be lucky if we don't freeze to death!" says one character. Poppycock, plain and simple. Even if it were zero degrees outside, you're in an enclosed (i.e., wind-free) space!
Working from this lackluster script by Chris Sparling (Buried), director David Brooks does what he can with the staging, but ATM is mortally wounded by its stupidity. Even if one ignores all of the above problems, the movie suffers from little details that set up more potentially interesting plot twists — in the form of lies or in-fighting within the group — none of which come to convincing fruition or factor into ATM's stalking and increasingly desultory, mindless final act.
The cast, especially Eve, gamely tries to elevate the material, and succeed in crafting a few nice character moments here and there. But the best genre pieces milk what-if tension from characters serving as surrogates for the audience. Even with merely super-slick execution, many genre offerings can overcome what are on the surface stupid decisions by its characters. The feeblemindedness of ATM's characters, however, overwhelms the picture, and mirrors the lack of inventiveness on display by Sparling and Brooks. (IFC/Gold Circle Films, R, 90 minutes)