Welcome witches and warlocks,
Today I will be reviewing the psychological science fiction feature ATOMICA by director Dagen Merrill. To best describe the story I will use my own plot summary:
"A young safety inspector is sent to check out a remote nuclear power plant when communications go offline. Upon arrival she begins to believe the two men running the plant may not be who they claim and might have their own ulterior motivations."
I am not going to lie, when I saw this was a film produced by SyFy Films, my mind immediately went to their creature features. I figured there would have to be some sort of monster created by the atomic energy mentioned in the title since I knew nothing about this movie. The opening made it clear that this was not going to be that kind of experience, but instead was going to focus on an actual science fiction based concept.
Of course, what the beginning does not make clear is how they plan on approaching this conceit. We are giving the majority of the information about the importance of this power plant and how it works from a scientific standpoint, but beyond that we are left rather in the dark. This was a clever way to set up the majority of the exposition without making the characters rattle off dialogue that would have felt out of place in what is a lived in world. In addition to this, it also should be a bit of a red flag to fans of the sci-fi genre that the company behind these power plants is mentioned quite a few times, as the true genre fans know that there must be something going on within the corporation.
Our entry into this world is the character of Abbey, played by up and comer Sarah Habel. Ms. Habel given a good performance that brims with a no nonsense authority while still bringing humanity to her role. As things become more tenuous, she shines as a person who begins to doubt her role within her company when those around her seem somehow off.
While Ms. Habel plays the straight man stuck in a weird world role, it is the two strange people, Robinson and Zek (played by Dominic Monaghan and Tom Sizemore, respectively) who are given the meaty parts. Of the two, Monaghan gets the more outlandish character as he is clearly someone who has quite a few screws loose. It is hard, even from the get-go, to believe that anyone could possibly believe that he is an employee at the plant as he seems to lack all of the common knowledge that any worker should know. It is his boyish ignorance and charmingly off behavior that makes him so interesting to watch.
On the other end of the spectrum we have Sizemore's Zek who seems to know everything about the plant, but also might have dark motivations. His calm and collected interaction with Habel and Monaghan have a tenseness to them that is certain to make the audience doubt his intentions. That being said, he never lays his role as so obviously crazy so it is hard to tell whether he is just a victim of his isolation or someone out to cause trouble.
The plot itself is mostly composed of these three characters interacting and working on their own ends. While certain aspects were a bit problematic from a logic standpoint (I mean, how can anyone trust someone who seems to have no basic knowledge of their job?), for the most part it works as a small cast in a locked room piece. Especially impressive was the ending as it begins to become clear that finding a happy finale is going to be night on impossible and they never shield away from the darkness.
The sets are incredibly industrial, but the crew added some touches to evoke something familiar yet distinctly futuristic. I was actually mostly impressed with the look of this picture as it is obvious a lot of care went into making this look good while remaining within the confines of the budget. Since this is mostly focused on the characters and paranoia, I considered the nice visuals to be more of an added bonus than a necessity.
All in all, some strong performances help keep the forward momentum on this minimalist science fiction thriller. There are a few story problems, but they can mostly be overlooked thanks to the brisk pace and interesting conceit. Fans of locked room, psychological science fiction like CUBE (1997) or EXAM (2009) are probably going to enjoy this movie.
The Creeping Craig
ATOMICA will be in select theaters March 17, 2017 and available on VOD and Digital HD March 21, 2017