‘Atomica’ is a Science Fiction mystery set in the near future and involving the last nuclear power plant and two men who operate it. When its communications go off-line, an engineer is sent to restore the connection. She finds more questions than answers. This is a low-budget and claustrophobic film, most of which takes place underground with a plot that develops only slowly. Rating: high 0 (-4 to +4) or 5/10.
With Science Fiction films these days being about super-heroes, time travel, genetic engineering and nano-technology, it has been quite a while since atomic power has been much of an attraction for a movie. In the 1950s, there were films like ‘The Atomic Submarine’, ‘The Atomic Kid’ and ‘The Atomic City’. Six decades later, I don’t know many people whose pulse will race at the thought of a film inspired by atomic energy. The word ‘atomic’ just does not have the cachet it once did.
A few years into the future there has been a large nuclear disaster including a triple meltdown. Nuclear power is being abandoned and one last nuclear power plant still is running, just where the triple meltdown occurred. To convert the leaked radiation and make it reusable energy is the purpose of this plant. When its communications go unexpectedly off-line on Christmas day, the government needs to know what is going on. They send in Abby Dixon (played by Sarah Habel) to get the communications operating again. She finds that two operators run the whole plant, Robinson Scott (Dominic Monaghan) and Dr. Zek (Tom Sizemore).
But Zek has left the plant days ago and has not returned. Since this is a highly contaminated area, Zek may well be dead from radiation or perhaps murdered by Robinson, whose behavior starts friendly but soon becomes a little threatening. As Abby stays longer and feels not particularly welcome she is having bad dreams, seeing herself as a child. Abby has to find out what has happened here. Did Robinson kill Dr. Zek? Is Zek alive somewhere and, if so, what is he doing? The film devolves into a game of ‘guess who is not what he appears’.
‘Atomica’ takes place mostly underground in cylindrical tunnels and subterranean rooms. This adds to the claustrophobic effect without adding much to the budget needed. The film’s original title was ‘Deep Burial’.
The wardrobe decisions are a little weird. For some reason the men wear coveralls, but Abby wears a tight-fitting cat-suit and an aerodynamic bike-racing helmet. She does no racing. Dominic Monaghan’s character is named Robinson Scott. (Is this a reference to TV’s ‘I Spy’?) The reactor plant in question looks a little broken down and poorly maintained for a nuclear reactor. Relative newcomer Dagen Merrill directs a screenplay by Kevin Burke, Federico Fernandez-Armesto, and Adam Gyngell.
Even at a short 82 minutes, this film drags with too much wait for too little payoff and too many questions are left apparently unanswered or answered with mysterious visual sequences. I rate ‘Atomica’ a high 0 on the -4 to +4 scale or 5/10. ‘Atomica’ will have a limited release to theaters on March 17.
Mark R. Leeper
© Mark R. Leeper 2017