A minimalist movie can be just as hard-hitting, and sometimes even more so, than more grandiose films. If a story can be told well without several different settings, over-the-top special effects, and A-list celebrities, it can actually habe even more of an impact. ATOMICA is a restrained piece of cinema that effectively tells a great story without too much flair.
When I hear the term “a SyFy original” attached to a film, I think of campy, micro-budget films, with has-been celebrities and really bad CGI. Depending on how drunk I am, I can really enjoy of the above listed things. ATOMICA is an altogether different animal. It’s mostly humorless, but offers top-notch science fiction storytelling.
In the not-too-distant future — actually just one year from now — a far removed nuclear power plant, secluded in the desert, has gone off the grid, and our protagonist, Abby (Sarah Habel), is sent to bring it back online. I always like seeing a female hero in a genre film — always brings to mind Ripley from the ALIEN franchise. You gotta love it when they stick it to the patriarchy! Also, I find the topics of the environment and energy sources to be topical, and a great point of interest.
When we first meet Abby, she is on a a space station, which is mostly made up of CGI. Most of the time, I abhor the over-use of CGI in films. Thankfully, ATOMICA had some high quality and well placed digital effects. I respect the the character of Abby. She doesn’t let her male counterparts push her around. She is feisty, and plays by her own rules. I would also like to compliment the SyFy Channel and composer Christian Davis on the amazing score. The music used in ATOMICA clearly installs a great sense of dread. The feeling of impending doom is something you usually only find in bigger-budgeted Hollywood sci-fi movies.
Upon landing at the nuclear power plant, Abby encounters Robinson (Dominic Monaghan), who seems to be the only person still working at the power plant. I was pleasantly surprised to see Monaghan in this movie. I haven’t really kept up with him since Lost and the THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy. At one point, Robinson talks about how extreme isolation warps the mind. I don’t know if you would call it foreshadowing, but Robinson is a bit cuckoo.
Intermittently throughout ATOMICA, Abby has stark dream sequences. These are all pretty trippy and Kubrick-esque. I’m not sure what it had to the story, but film-wise, I really enjoyed the aesthetic. Very psychedelic, very 1970s, very cool! Earlier, when I said that ATOMICA was humorless, that wasn’t completely true. There is a story that Robinson relates to Abby about smoking crack that is hilarious! This monologue alone is enough to watch the movie: Great dialogue altogether.
The introductions of Zek (Tom Sizemore) brings a whole different tone to ATOMICA. Things seem more urgent than before. Robinson informs Abby that Zek likes to walk around outside the nuclear plant, and that he could be a danger. Zek is first discovered unconscious, and he’s strapped down for Abby and Robinson’s protection. When he comes to, Robinson is out of the room, and Zek informs Abby that Robinson is the one who’s the true threat. Immediately, it appears they shouldn’t have helped Zek get back inside. Any experience watching films like this would tell you not to.
ATOMICA is a slow burn of a movie with some great character development. It brings to mind PASSENGERS, but lower in budget and actually watchable. At first, I felt like Abby shouldn’t trust Zek, and then I felt like she shouldn’t trust Robinson. Fuck it, don’t trust either of them. At different points, it seems like they’ve both lost their marbles.
As much as I like ATOMICA, the finale of the film felt a bit rushed. When the fan goes down, you know shit is about to hit, and it all boils down to a trivial revenge plot. What starts off as an ALICE IN WONDERLAND type of tea party, with Abby being Alice, and Robinson and Zek playing the parts of the Mad Hatter and the White Rabbit, quickly becomes anti-climactic. Not much ultimately happens in ATOMICA. Still, paradoxically, it’s worth a look. If you enjoy “a SyFy original” but would like to see one with a little more depth and intelligence, then this is the movie for you.
ATOMICA is in theaters on March 17th and on VOD and Digital HD on March 21st.