ATOMICA is a science-fiction thriller set during an energy crisis in the near future. When communications go offline in a remote power plant, safety inspector Abby Dixon (Sarah Habel) goes out to bring them back online, only to find the occupants of the facility (played by Dominic Monaghan and Tom Sizemore) may not be who they seem. Director Dagen Merrill keeps the tension high and the twists and turns coming in this film where the location seems to become a character itself, inflicting paranoia and claustrophobia on the characters and a sense of unease in the viewer. DAILY GRINDHOUSE got a chance to chat to Merrill about creating an environment of isolation and dread and creating believable character reactions to that.
DAILY GRINDHOUSE: The isolated energy facility was such a strong factor in the story. How did you go about creating that environment?
DAGEN MERRILL: We found a perfect location, an abandoned Titan nuclear missile solo. It took a lot of work to get it clean, and then we enhanced it so it looked more like a facility. Of course, our director of photography [Timothy A. Burton] did a great job with lights, colors, and patterns. We shot six feet underground for a month.
DG: How did you direct the actors within the film to create the sense of claustrophobia and paranoia inflicted by the bunker?
DM: Part of it is they had the experience the characters were having. Being able to shoot in a nuclear missile silo is a spooky feeling, there’s something special about it. It helped create a sense and a place, and a certain feeling in the characters.
DG: What were the limitations or opportunities of working on a set that was pretty much one location?
DM: Reading the screenplay, it has great characters, so you sort of forget it’s all in one location. It does heighten the claustrophobia. Some of the limitations are it’s hard to deal with in terms of the production, but it added to the story.
DG: What were your thoughts when you first read the script, and what got you interested in directing it?
DM: My first thoughts were I was constantly surprised at what happened next. There were twists and turns that I didn’t see coming.
DG: The film takes place in the near future. How did you go about creating a truly futuristic look and feel for the film?
DM: It’s set in the future, but the facility itself is extremely old. It’s a touchpoint for what happened to the infrastructure of the modern world. We hired a really great concept artist who helped us with some of what the world would look like. They made visionary art, and then we just did what we had to do to make it make energy sense.
DG: There seems to be a theme of isolation present in all the characters. How did you help bring that to life in the film?
DM: I hate to keep coming back to the location, but that was part of it again. The way we shot it, there was a lot of space. We were also in the middle of the high desert in Washington. The characters were really great, and we had an expert in cinematography.
ATOMICA will is now in theaters and will be available on VOD and digital HD March 21, 2017.