No, the indie horror movie ATM is not about a psychotic automated teller that charges the steepest of convenience fees—your life!—but it isn’t much smarter than that premise, either. Written by Chris Sparling, who also penned the Ryan-Reynolds-in-a-coffin movie Buried, ATM attempts another tense, resourceful thriller in a single setting, stranding three people in an ATM kiosk with a killer outside. Sometimes self-imposed restrictions like that can lead to ingenuity, like the writerly equivalent of Houdini wriggling out of braces while submerged headfirst in water, but Sparling drowns almost instantly. The circumstances that lead this trio into the murder kiosk are unlikely, their standoff with the killer implausible and absurd in a dozen different ways, and the engineering involved in making the ending work is so elaborate that it involves actual onscreen engineering. And when the gimmick falls through, there’s no subtext to soften the landing.
Leading a capable cast, Brian Geraghty, so good in The Hurt Locker and the lesser-known Easier With Practice, does what he can with the role of a white-collar flunky who makes a last-ditch effort to woo departing co-worker Alice Eve at the company Christmas party. Egged on by friend and cubicle-mate Josh Peck, Geraghty offers to give Eve a ride home and she accepts, but the cash-poor Peck decides to tag along. He needs to stop at an ATM first. Geraghty parks the car 50 yards from the machine for some reason (don’t ask). All three pile into the kiosk (don’t ask). A hooded figure appears in the vast space between the car and the kiosk. They’re trapped like Ryan Reynolds in a coffin.
Because the killer needs an ATM card to get into the kiosk—and because simply smashing through the glass is out of the question—the two sides enter a détente and so does the movie, which needs to fill its slasher quota somehow. Sparling’s answer? Have dope after dope wander into the parking lot—a guy walking his dog, a mall security guard—only to be bludgeoned to death with a tire iron. Meanwhile, the three victims scramble for ways to alert the authorities and scream at each other about who’s to blame for inspiring this stalker, and who’s to blame for the terrible decision to withdraw cash at this particular machine. Perfunctory killings outside, bickering ninnies inside: It’s about as riveting as it sounds.