In the near future, when communications go offline at a remote nuclear power plant isolated in the desert, a young safety inspector, Abby Dixon, is forced to fly out to bring them back online. Once inside the facility, mysterious clues and strange behaviors cause Abby to have doubts about the sanity, and perhaps identities, of the two employees onsite.
March 17th, 2017
Atomica was originally titled the far better Deep Burial (thus referencing something important in the film) but when your ultimate destiny is SyFy, you gotta put in a more Syfy-friendly title. Atomica is sort of nonsensical, but it’ll fit the bill for SyFy’s core audience. That title just sounds like a SyFy movie.
Besides, there’s not much depth to Atomica – leaving it in a prime spot for one of those Friday night “what’s on SyFy?” kind of brainless channel-surfing evenings.
In the not-so-distant future, Abby (Sarah Habel) is a young engineer for a major energy corporation called Auxilisun – a company known for taking radioactive waste of the now-defunct nuclear energy concern and turning it into a better and less expensive energy product for the masses. When communication goes out at the company’s original facility over the holidays (meaning there is no one else who could check things out), she takes it upon herself to take a trip to further examine the problem. She’s flown into “the red zone” and dropped at the facility, in an attempt to get their communications back online. She meets Robinson; a very oddball facility caretaker (The Lord of the Rings trilogy’s Dominic Monaghan — also exec. producing here) as well as science officer Dr. Zek (veteran character actor Tom Sizemore). Neither of the men seem mentally stable, and it will become a battle of wills as Abby determines which one of these two men she can trust. All of this is happening as this aging facility is on the verge of shutting down, thus expanding the dangerous “red zone”.
The film wants to be a contained and claustrophobic thriller – attempting to pull the paranoia and stifling atmosphere from something like Carpenter’s The Thing (minus the shape-shifting creatures of course — Atomica is not a monster movie), but it falls short all the way through. There’s never any suspense and the build is practically non-existent. When Sizemore’s Dr. Zek finally enters the picture, there is but a fleeting glimpse of unease as the audience is invited to ask, “who is Abby to trust?”
The visual effects (minus some of the larger outdoor shots of the facility and the futuristic aircraft) are all quite good. It’s a nice mix of the very old and rusty interior of the facility – working against the on-point Minority Report-esque technology which operates the place. On that note, the locations used for the place are just stunning. And the lighting used to highlight the many corners and corridors – is very gratifying. Aside from those aforementioned exterior visual effects (they look just like what you’d expect from a cheapie SyFy film), technically it looks good.
“Slow as molasses” would be a phrase that very well suits the overall pace of Atomica. It’s by-the-numbers, breaks no new ground and truly putters along at a snail’s pace. Nothing really happens for the first hour – just lots of “let’s check everything out to see what’s wrong”. There’s some promise of potential violence (again, Robinson is pretty kooky) and possible sexual tension (Robinson watches Abby bathe), but it’s all just overwhelmingly vanilla. Even the flimsy backstories provided to the two leads – fail to garner any interest. And in the case of Abby, her backstory really offers nothing of value – other than to perhaps inform her very cool and no-nonsense demeanor. But it’s not enough.
Performances are all decent, but again… the backstories of these characters are all quite slim (it’s an 81 minute film, so you can’t expect much) so you’re not given much to latch onto as far as sympathy.
But as Abby, Habel is appropriately “all-business” and it takes some prying for Robinson to shed some of her character’s hardened shell. She’s not a bad actress, but with so little to pull from (script and dialogue-wise), she’s just left to flounder, appear gruff and aloof and to feign terror when “danger” erupts. The “decent” but not great performance here, is not Habel’s fault.
Monaghan is certainly enjoyable to watch. His Robinson is jittery and pleasantly goofy. He’s never given a chance to go all-out menacing, which I think was a mistake. As tired a cliché as sexual violence is, at least it adds some drama. I never felt any danger from Monaghan – which is sort of okay, based on some final reveals, but never feeling that the lead character is in peril – doesn’t do anything for the film’s overall experience. The same applies to Monaghan as it does to Habel – not a bad performance, but no real support from the story, dialogue or direction gives him little to do.
As for Sizemore, Dr. Zek shows up pretty late in the game. But even with such a small role, Sizemore can always be counted upon to do an admirable job in pretty much anything. Dr. Zek isn’t a challenging role by any means and Sizemore is a recognizable and good actor, so that’s clearly why he’s here.
Kudos must be paid to the film’s opening credits – as the names of the cast and crew are spread out across the screen, we’re given a smooth ad pitch from the people behind Auxilisun – as they make their politicized case on why this new energy is the safest and cheapest. I was reminded of that early teaser ad for Resident Evil: Apocalypse – when the Umbrella Corporation was touting their make-up/cosmetics line and how it will keep you forever young (wink wink, nudge nudge). Remember that one? I just adore fake advertisements like that – especially when they’re so well done, as is the case in Atomica.
While this film contains nothing particularly memorable or ground-breaking, it’s something I’d recommend you sit down and casually (key word here is casually – I wouldn’t seek this out) enjoy if you happen to be flipping channels and you see it is just starting on SyFy. If you’re chilling at home with some drinks and some friends – it’s an easy and inoffensive sell – making it as average as average can be.
Atomica is scheduled for a limited theatrical release on March 17th, 2017. If you’re intrigued, there will also be a VOD and Digital HD release on March 21st. The film is being released by SyFy Films.