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Film Review: Atomica (2017)

SYNOPSIS:

A safety inspector at a remote nuclear power plant begins to have doubts about the sanity — or perhaps the identities — of two of her key employees.

REVIEW:

‘Gibson Desert North is the largest nuclear waste repository in the southern hemisphere,’ we’re told in the Atomica. So, it’s fair to say that if something went wrong with it, we’d all be up a certain creek without a paddle. Well, guess what happens in Atomica, from director Dagen Merill (Broken Hill)? Actually, not all that much. Yeah, I’m surprised as well. Surprised and disappointed.

The film is set in the year Near Future, roughly around Christmas time, and Safety Inspector Abby (Sarah Habel) has been packed off to the aforementioned Gibson Desert North after communications with the facility fail. Immediately after arriving, she is met by one of the two people who actually run the place: caretaker Robinson (Dominic Monaghan). Robinson is remarkably blasé about working on a failing nuclear time bomb and more concerned about the behavior of his colleague, Dr Zek (Tom Sizemore), who has run off into the toxic desert that surrounds the facility blithering like an idiot.

Clearly not everything is as it seems and Atomica tries to build up layers of suspense once Zek returns from his foolhardy walkabout. Zek doesn’t trust Robinson and Robinson doesn’t trust Zek. Perhaps it’s being cut off from society for so long that’s driven the men mad, or perhaps it’s something much more sinister. Maybe one of them never wipes the toilet seat is there’s spillage, or leaves toast crumbs in the butter. Whatever it is, the plot insists on Abby working it out before the facility blows up and everyone dies.

The problem with everything mentioned above is that it all happens in the last 15-20 minutes of the film. Sizemore doesn’t really do much and only appears in the last third of the film, leaving the rest of the film in the hands of Habel and Monaghan. So essentially, we’re just walking from one part of the facility to the other as Robinson spews monologue after monologue to distract from the fact that this is 10 minutes of plot stretched to snapping point.

I’m not saying they’re not entertaining monologues – as a Brit, I found the reference to swaggering boy band meatheads East 17 amusing – but they’re utterly pointless and fail to hide the fact that this is a deeply dull film.

When Sizemore does surface, his character is largely unconscious for most of the time he’s on screen. Whilst this was a cinematic outing for the producers at SyFy, Sizemore’s performance bears all the hallmarks of VOD fare, where the likes of Bruce Willis and Steven Segal do next to nothing over 90 minutes. Bringing Sizemore in earlier and giving him more to do would have elevated Atomica to something that has at least a little bit of intrigue; something the viewer can chew over before the film’s denouement.

Instead, we’re reluctantly dragged along on this excruciating journey of faux-intrigue that never gets out of first gear. Attempts are made to give Abby a backstory of her very own through flashbacks and nightmares, but these are all for naught. In hindsight, Atomica can do very little with its premise without ruining it’s ending, but it could there’s nothing wrong with showing us Robinson’s previous interactions with Zek, rather than just telling us. Anything, literally anything, that saves us another walk to a pump station or hazmat center or whatever it is we’re supposed to care about. And when the ending does arrive, if you haven’t already lost interest, you’ll be shouting at the screen for clarification of what on earth is going on.

If it hasn’t already been made abundantly clear, Atomica is a massive waste of time for all involved. It is so undercooked, it fails to work as a thriller, a mystery, or even a sci-fi. Perhaps this is one for the Sizemore completest out there. I’m not even sure if that’s a thing.

 

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