My notes on SyFy Films’ Atomica (aka Deep Burial).Another movie showcasing a spectacular post-industrial location – a former missile facility in Moses Lake, Washington – by having a small cast run in panic down more corridors than seen in the entire run of Doctor Who while gabbling at gadgets in info-dumps as something ominous happens. Credit writers Federico Fernandez-Gomez Armesto and Adam Gyngell and Kevin Burke (as they’re billed) and director Dagen Merrill for trying to shake the formula up a bit by not having CGI monsters pour out of the Auxilisun ‘deep burial’ nuclear waste reprocessing facility or throwing in a few disaster scenes to sketch a global catastrophe solved by haircuts with laptops.
In one of those basic suspense scenarios that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, a remote desert facility with a two-man crew has suffered a communications breakdown and a single fixer from head office, Abby Dixon (Sarah Habel), is sent out by flying sphere to fix it. She tells the pilot she’ll arrange a pick-up when she’s got the phone working and he shrugs it off – leaving her stranded at the base with one dodgy, jittery, golfclub-swinging janitor type (Dominic Monaghan) who claims that the boss, Dr Zek (Tom Sizemore), has gone for a desert jaunt and not said when he’ll be back. After an hour of edginess, with the janitor giving off all sorts of uneasy vibes (and peeping on the trim boffin as she showers), Zek staggers in, perhaps insane, definitely covering up some company wrongdoing, and gets handcuffed to a gurney. It’s a seesaw as to which of the guys is a homicidal, perhaps-genocidal loon and the balance of power and probability swings this way and that as the heroine – who has great hair and teeth, but isn’t written as much of a brain – consistently makes the wrong choice. There’s a laser-razor gadget to prove it’s the future, which is of course employed to lop off a fingertip so someone can access the big concrete dome at the climax.
Though short, it feels padded – with a couple of tipped-in flashback traumas to explain everyone’s actions – and the decent performances don’t quite take away from the formula nature of it all. In scale, it’s not that far removed from 1970s gems like A Cold Night’s Death and Phase IV – but they had a mind-stretching quality, while this defaults to mundane button-pressing and dead relatives. Habel, a striking looker, was in Whip It, The Butterfly Effect 3 and Hostel III (of yes there are threequels to The Butterfly Effect and Hostel fame) – she seems to be shaping up as the direct-to-streaming/cable version of Anne Hathaway. Monaghan, following up another near-two-hander (Pet), is staking his claim as the premier twitchy, yet semi-sympathetic character star of his generation.