Directed by David Brooks
In some ways, it’s surprising that it took this long for someone to make a horror film about people stranded inside an ATM. It’s a pretty basic fear in modern society after all: being terrorized, assaulted or robbed during a routine stop at an automated teller. It’s a premise that has potential, especially considering ATM comes from the writer of the superior claustrophobic thriller, Buried. If a movie built entirely around one guy trapped inside a coffin could work so well, there’s no reason ATM couldn’t have worked too.
But it doesn’t. And it’s easy to tell something’s wrong almost instantly. Even before we get to the isolated location, we find ourselves saddled with characters whose behavior never quite rings true. Our “hero”, David, is a young investor who can’t seem to find the courage to ask out Emily – even though it’s her last day on the job. He’s egged on by a smarmy friend, Corey (a douchier version of Ryan Howard from The Office), to attend the company Christmas party as a last-ditch effort to make an impression on the object of his affection. Even these scenes are bland and unconvincing: corporate sleazebags sit around telling awful jokes to one another while leaving attractive blonde women to stand off in the distance by themselves (sleazy guys I’ve worked with have pounced on a lot less). Emily winds up accepting a ride home from David and Corey inexplicably tags along for no other reason than the filmmakers needed a third person to terrorize.
ATM is the kind of movie where everything is off-kilter. Sure, there’s a vague reason for the impromptu ATM stop, a half-baked excuse for parking the car halfway across the parking lot and some grounds for luring all three characters inside the desolate booth without their cell phones. You could almost make due with these thin lapses in logic if things course-corrected once our resident psychopath showed up. Unfortunately, once that happens things go further off the deep end. It goes without saying that the situation escalates from creepy to terrifying (at least for our characters, never the audience) but their initial refusal to leave the booth over what amounts to a creepy dude standing in the shadows never feels as convincing as it should.
Because this situation is grounded in a very tangible reality, it needed a bit more umph to repel the bouts of unintentional hilarity. For example, despite being the middle of the night, there’s really no reason to be afraid of the guy outside wearing a jacket. Couldn’t he simply be waiting to use the ATM? This is the beginning of a bigger problem, however, as ATM quickly goes out of its way to showcase the most needlessly diabolical screen psychopath since Jigsaw. The difference? At least the Saw movies were about victims learning to respect life and confront the terrible decisions they’d made. Here, our killer booby traps the parking lot with tripwire – in case anyone should do the smart thing in try to run. He also kills the heat, cuts the power and gleefully murders anyone who happens by.
And people do happen by. An ill-fated rent-a-cop, a hapless dog walker and even a red herring dressed in exactly the same coat as our villain. All of them feel deliberately inserted as a means of making the proceedings more exciting and twisty somehow, but it never amounts to more than frustration. Our core characters don’t even react properly to the carnage; two of them even flirt with a kiss after watching someone take a screwdriver to the stomach! By the time the ATM is being flooded with water (an impossibility considering the front door is obscured, but can be made ajar while this is happening), it’s just really hard to give a damn about the outcome.
Director David Brooks is saddled with an awful script and bad-to-inconsistent performances. He deserves credit for generating some spooky atmosphere along the way, however. The ATM itself looks a bit eerie in its manufactured isolation, and the killer is always disappearing into shadows, suggesting these events might as well be occurring on some isolated country road, and not off of a freeway exit. The film also features excellent sound design that helps the viewer feel the chill of the cold and windy city night. In a better film, with stronger characters and more believable decisions, some of the suspense scenarios might’ve worked, and Brooks suggests there’s a better film in him waiting to escape. There are moments where the tension mounts impressively, even if the right payoff is lacking.
At one point in ATM, the film seems to suggest that, even in this tech-infused world, where cameras are everywhere and GPS can track ones every move, we, as a society, are still vulnerable. It’s a valid point, I suppose, but the film waits until the very to end make it, and seems a little too pleased with itself after doing so (it reiterates the same message again and again throughout the hilariously padded end credits). It also sacrifices any semblance of satisfying climax in favor of relaying said message (which is more like an unproven thesis anyway), ending the movie on an incredulous note. Imagine if Halloween ended with Michael killing Lynda and Annie, refusing to chase Laurie because he realized Loomis was getting close. That’d be tantamount to what you can expect from the 11th hour of ATM.
On one hand, ATM isn’t a boring film. Clocking in at 81 minutes, it’s well-paced and entertaining – even if it’s provoking unwanted laughter most of the time. Then again, it’s a wasted opportunity that never successfully exploits or explores any number of creepy scenarios that could spring from a late night stop. The most surprising thing here is what IFC saw in this film that made them think it’d be worthy of a release. Save it for a rainy afternoon, if at all.
2 out of 5
IAMX’s Alive in New Light Review – A Dark, Hypnotic, and Stunning Musical Endeavor
Recording eight albums is an achievement no matter the artist, group, or band. This is especially true for Chris Corner’s IAMX, his solo project after the trip hop group Sneaker Pimps, which has enchanted listeners since 2004’s Kiss + Swallow with its dark electronic aesthetic. There’s something fascinating about the music Corner puts out as IAMX. Perhaps it’s the underlying melancholy that seems to pervade the music, almost certainly a result of the musician’s battle with depression and chronic insomnia [Source]. Perhaps it’s the unexpected melodies that reveal themselves with each new measure. Whatever it is, IAMX’s music is a constant delight.
On Alive in New Light, Corner reveals that his eighth album was a product he created as a way of “…breaking free from demons that have long plagued him,” per an official press release. Strangely enough, this uplifting attitude may easily be overlooked but repeat listens unveil a sense of hope and wonder that are simply breathtaking. The title track echoes with almost angelic choir pads that positively shine as Corner exultingly cries in a shimmering falsetto, “I’m alive in new light!” This comes after the Depeche Mode-esque “Stardust”, which offers the first collaboration with Kat Von D, whose pure voice is a beautiful addition to the pulsating track.
The third track, “Break The Chains”, has an opening that immediately called to mind Birds of Tokyo’s “Discoloured”, which is meant as a compliment. It’s followed by the Nine Inch Nails influenced “Body Politics”, which meshes Corner’s crooning vocals with a 90’s industrial backdrop. “Exit” has an almost sinister progression lurking in the background that builds to an aggressive, in-your-face third act. The cinematic Middle Eastern flairs of “Stalker” mutate effortlessly into a heartbeat pulse that features back-and-forth vocals between Corner and Von D. The haunted circus vibe that permeates through “Big Man” is mirrored by its playful gothic aura, ghostly “oohs” and “aahs” sprinkled carefully here and there.
While the album has been a delight up to this point, it’s the final two tracks that took my breath away and left me stunned. “Mile Deep Hollow” builds layer after layer while Corner passionately cries out, “So thank you/you need to know/that you dragged me out/of a mile deep hollow/and I love you/you brought me home/because you dragged me out/of a mile deep hollow.” The way the song’s melodies back these wonderfully uplifting lyrics feels grand and epic, as though a journey is coming to an end, which is where “The Power and the Glory” comes in. Far more subdued, it’s a beautiful song that feels almost like a religious experience, a hymn of a soul that is desperate to claw its way to salvation and escape a life of pain and darkness.
What makes Alive in New Light so wonderful is how much there is to experience. I got the album and listened to it no less than five times in a row without pause. I simply couldn’t turn it off because each return revealed something new in the music. Corner also makes fantastic use of Von D’s vocals, carefully placing them so as to make them a treat and not a commonplace certainty.
While some may be disappointed that there are only nine tracks, each of the songs is carefully and meticulously crafted to be as powerful and meaningful as possible. It really is a stunning accomplishment and I’m nothing short of blown away by how masterfully Alive in New Light plays out.
IAMX’s Alive in New Light is a triumph of music. Full of beauty and confidence, it doesn’t forget the foundation that fans have come to know and love for over a decade but instead embraces that comfortable darkness with open arms. Corner states that this album was a way to break free from his demons. It certainly feels like he’s made peace with them.
The Hatred Review – A History Lesson Dug Up From The Depths Of Hell
Starring Zelda Adams, Lulu Adams, John Law
Directed by John Law
I don’t know about the scholastic interests the masses had (or have) that read all of the killer nuggets that get cranked out on this site, but when I was an academic turd, one of my true passions was history, and it was one of the only subjects that managed to hold my interest, and when the opportunity arose to check out John Law’s ultra-nightmarish feature, The Hatred – I was ready to crack the books once again.
The setting is the Blackfoot Territory in the late 1800s, and the pains of a lengthy conflict have taken their toll on the remaining soldiers as food has become scarce, and the film picks up with soldiers on the march in the brutal cold and snow covered mountainside. In tow is a P.O.W. (Law), and the decision is made by the soldiers to execute him in earnest instead of having to shorten their rations by feeding him, so he is then hung (pretty harshly done), and left to rot as the uniformed men trudge along. A short time later the group encounters a small family on the fringes of the territory, and when the demands for food are rebuked, the slaughter is on and the only survivor is a young girl (Adams) who prays to an oblivious god that she can one day reap the seeds of revenge upon those who’ve murdered her family. We all know that there are usually two sides to any story, and when the good ear isn’t listening, the evil one turns its direction towards those who need it most, and that’s when the Devil obliges.
The answer to the young girl’s prayers comes in the resurrection of the prisoner that was hung a short time ago, and he has been dubbed “Vengeance” – together their goal will be achieved by harshly dishing out some retribution, and the way it’s presented is drawn-out, almost like you’re strapped into the front-row pew of a hellfire-cathedral and force-fed the sermon of an evil voice from the South side of the tracks. It’s vicious and beautiful all at once, Law’s direction gives this visually-striking presentation all the bells and whistles to please even the harshest of critics (hell, you’re reading the words of one right now). The performances, while a bit stoic in nature, still convey that overall perception of a wrong that demands to be righted, no matter how morally mishandled it might be. Overall, I can absolutely recommend The Hatred for not only those wanting a period-piece with ferocious-artistry, but for others who continue to pray with no response, and are curious to see what the other side can offer.
The Hatred is a visually-appealing look into the eyes of animus, and all of the beauty of returning the harm to those who have awarded it to others.
Before We Vanish Review – A Quirky and Original Take on Alien Invasions
Starring Masami Nagasawa, Ryûhei Matsuda, Hiroki Hasegawa
Written by Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa
During the J-horror rampage of the late 90’s and early 2000’s, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Kairo (aka Pulse). A dark, depressing, and morose tale of ghosts that use the internet to spread across the world, the film’s almost suffocatingly gloomy atmosphere pervaded across every frame of the film. Because of my love of this film, I was eager to see the director’s upcoming movie Sanpo Suru Shinryakusha (aka Before We Vanish), which follows three aliens who recently arrived on Earth and are preparing to bring about an alien invasion that will wipe humanity from the face of the planet. Imagine my surprise when the film turned out to be barely a horror title but was instead a quirky and surreal dramedy that tugged at my heartstrings.
Admittedly, I was thrown completely for a loop as the film begins with a scene that feels perfectly at home in a horror film. Akira (Tsunematsu), a teenage girl, goes home and we enter moments later to blood splashed on the walls and floor and bodies strewn about. However, the disturbing visuals are spun around as the young girl walks down a highway, her clothes and face streaked with blood, Yusuke Hayashi’s music taking on a lighthearted, almost jaunty attitude. From there, we learn of the other two aliens (yes, she’s an alien and it’s not a secret or a twist, so no spoilers there): Amano (Takasugi), who is a young man that convinces a sleazy reporter, Sakurai (Hasegawa), of his true form and tasks Sakurai with being his guide, and Shinji (Matsuda), the estranged husband of Narumi (Nagasawa).
What sets these aliens, and their mission, apart from other invasion thrillers is their means of gathering information. They’re not interested in meeting leaders nor do they capture people for nefarious experimentations. Rather, they steal “concepts” from the minds of people, such as “family”, “possession”, or “pest”. Once these concepts are taken, the victim no longer has that value in their mind, freed from its constraints.
While this may seem like a form of brainwashing, Kurosawa instead plays with the idea that maybe knowing too much is what holds us back from true happiness. A man obsessed with staking claim to his family home learns to see the world outside of its walls when “possession” is no longer a part of his life. A touchy boss enters a state of child-like glee after “work” has been taken. That being said, there are other victims who are left as little more than husks.
Overly long at 130 minutes, the film does take its time showing the differences between the aliens and their individual behaviors. Amano and Akira are casually ruthless, willing to do whatever it takes to send a beacon to begin the alien invasion, no matter how many must die along the way, while Shinji is the curious and almost open-minded one, whose personal journey finds him at one point asking a priest to envision and describe “love”, a concept that is so individualistic and personal that it can’t be taken, much less fathomed, by this alien being. While many of these scenes are necessary, they could have easily been edited down to shave 10-15 minutes, making the film flow a bit more smoothly.
While the film begins on a dark note, there is a scene in the third act that is so pure and moving that tears immediately filled my eyes and I choked up a little. It’s a moment of both sacrifice and understanding, one that brings a recurring thread in the story full circle.
With every passing minute, Before We Vanish makes it clear that it’s much more horror-adjacent than horror. An alien invasion thriller with ultimate stakes, it will certainly have appeal to genre fans. That being said, those who go in expecting action, violence, and terror will certainly be disappointed. But those whose mind is a bit more open to a wider range of possibilities will find a delightful story that attempts to find out what it means to be human, even if we have to learn the lesson from an alien.
Before We Vanish is a beautiful, wonderful tale that explores what it means to be human when faced with the threat of extinction.
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