The first twenty minutes of ATM play like a particularly bad romantic comedy, the three leads spouting dialogue so inane and amateurish that it’s downright embarrassing to listen to. We have David (Brian Geraghty), a young investment banker. There’s his friend and coworker, Corey (Josh Peck), the vulgar, obnoxious boozehound who pressures David into finally approaching the girl he has wanted to ask out. This would be Emily (Alice Eve), who has accepted a job with a different company. This is David’s last chance. And so he takes it at the office Christmas party. At around midnight, just as Emily is about to hail a cab, David offers to drive her home. Corey, being the annoying leech he is, hitches along, as he has no money to pay for a cab. During the ride, he browbeats David into making a stop at an indoor ATM machine, as he wants to withdraw money so that they can make yet another stop at an all-night pizza joint.
The three find themselves within the ATM, and that’s when the thriller portion of the film starts. Unfortunately, this change in tone doesn’t improve the dialogue much, and it sure as hell does nothing for the plot, the theme, or the characterizations. Just as it’s discovered that Corey’s card is defective, all three of them notice a hulking figure standing a short distance from the door. His face is concealed beneath a bulky hooded parka. For a time, all he does is just stand and stare. David, Emily, and Corey are nervous. He can’t get in, because the door can only open by swiping your ATM card through an electronic lock. Should they call the police? They can’t; the only one among them who has a cell phone is Emily, and she left it in the car. The hooded figure turns and spots a homeless man with a dog. To show that he’s serious, he walks over to the homeless man and beats his head into a bloody pulp on the frozen asphalt.
And so begins an awkward psychological torture test, one that repeatedly demonstrates shaky logic and severe gaps in tension and plausibility. David and Emily learn that, because Corey’s card is defective, the only way he could have gotten in was if the door was unlocked. Sure enough, David is able to open it without using his card. They think the killer outside isn’t aware of this. Perhaps he isn’t. However, the three trapped victims will repeatedly open the door and call out for help within his line of sight, so it’s reasonable to assume that at some point he would figure out that all he has to do is pull the door open. But it seems he’s far too busy using tools and crowbars to try and pry a back door open. He eventually cuts off the heat to the kiosk, and so the three victims spend the rest of the film freezing – which is strange because we so rarely see foggy breath emanating from their mouths.
To be sure, the hooded man will kill a few other convenient and unlucky passersby before the sun finally rises. Meanwhile, David, Emily, and Corey desperately search for a way to attract the attention of authorities. Emily tries writing the word “help” on the window with her lipstick before approaching an ATM and punching in David’s PIN number backwards. Apparently, she once heard that doing so would alert the police somehow. David tries smashing one of the two ATM machines with a garbage can, as he heard a similar rumor about alerting the police. When the hooded man finally resorts to flooding the kiosk with a fire hose, it’s determined that the only course of action left is to set off the sprinkler alarm. I’ll let you work through the logic of this idea. Don’t think about it too hard, now.
The action is occasionally interrupted by the leads’ declining mental states, their panic and fear devolving into paranoia and distrust. This is especially true of David and Corey; how they ever became friends is beyond me. Without a believable premise and a decent screenplay, you’d think Geraghty, Eve, and Peck would have tried just a little bit harder to convince us that their characters are in a state of emotional breakdown. Alas, their performances are about one rung up on the ladder from an amateur high school production. At this level, we find we don’t much care about their characters – or, more accurately, their almost complete lack of intelligence. Consider the scene after Corey tries to run away and gets injured in the process. With the hooded man busy at the back of the kiosk, David and Emily have the chance to leave. And so they do. They spot Corey and take him … back into the kiosk?
All leads to a maddeningly unsatisfying ending, as it supplies us with everything except an explanation. When a thriller goes this route, it tends be because the filmmakers are making an attempt at some twisted existential metaphor. In this case, I think it’s a simple case of laziness. Despite this, the filmmakers keep the audience guessing all the way through the end credits, which are intercut with bizarre close-ups of overhead-projector plastic sheets and schematic drawings. In case you’re wondering, this is roughly the same way the movie began. A framing device. How quaint. ATM is a movie that underachieves at the basic conceptual level, so I guess it was too much to hope that it would somehow be redeemed by dialogue, location, theme, or performance. And is it just me, or is there something inherently wrong with releasing a Christmas-set film at the start of spring?