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It would be easy to think, based on what it looks like, that Atomica is another standard claustrophobic thriller, and in many ways, it earns that’s description, with its narrow passageways and good visual effects, and yet, in actuality is much more a mystery than anything else. With unreliable characters and corporate conspiracies, it has more to do with uncovering the truth than traditional action moments, leaving this ambitious project a little imbalanced as it works hard for it message.
Not too far from now, the world experiences an energy crisis that destabilizes global control after nuclear power plants catastrophically fail and sends the population into chaos. Along comes Auxilisun, a huge corporation that has come up with a solution using new technology that not only cleans that radiation but reinstates nuclear power as the most efficient worldwide source of energy and makes the planet safe for life again. It’s supposed to be a flawless system, so when a mechanical failure at one of the containment facilities occurs, new chief technical engineer Abby (Sarah Habel) volunteers on Christmas day to investigate the irradiated site, only to discover a lonely man named Robinson Scott (Dominic Monaghan) who, being alone for far too long, seems more than a little off. The real issue is the second man, Dr. Zek (Tom Sizemore), who she finds unconscious in the desert. There are secrets between these men, and Abby is soon to learn there is no one to trust and her life and many others are in grave danger.
Directed by Dagen Merrill, Atomica is if anything, a study in production design as the facility where most of the film takes place is as dominant a presence, if not more, than any of the characters. Long sickly black tubular corridors doused in neon glowing lights, shimmering in moisture feels like a breathing, sentient creature that give the setting a surprising level of authenticity. That’s important since the film is primarily about three characters, with two of them under question about who they are throughout. However, Merrill, who clearly knows his way around a camera, can’t build the tension the story demands, leaving pivotal moments filled with potential but no sense of urgency.
That has as much to do with the actors as well, with Sizemore barely injecting an ounce of energy into admittedly, his small part. Yes, there is a reason for his character’s lethargy, but his delivery is dull, and lacks any of the edge the actor is so well known for. Meanwhile, Monaghan is quite the opposite, fidgeting his way through film with a number of curious ticks that seem like nothing more that traits designed wholly to throw off the viewer, including his constant grip on a golf club that we are undoubtedly meant to believe he will use in terrible ways. Habel comes off best though, a relatively empowered woman stuck in the middle of a psychological nightmare. She does well as our guide about the mystery despite the film’s unfortunate inability to resist putting her in a shower and catching her in her underwear, while keeping her dressed in lycra-tight jumpsuits throughout.
Atomica has plenty of good ideas, and at a brisk 80 minutes, certainly isn’t a bad movie. Defying its low budget with some great looking sets, the movie feels bigger than it is, though a weak second act doesn’t offer the payoff it promises. Not the exciting thriller it looks to be, it is a talky, almost political story that strolls to its destination rather than runs.
Movie description: Atomica is a 2017 sci-fi thriller about a near-future world where a young safety inspector discovers things are not so well at a nuclear power plant in the desert that has gone offline.
Director(s): Dagen Merrill
Actor(s): Tom Sizemore, Sarah Habel, Dominic Monaghan