When we talk about atomic energy, it’s inevitable bitter discussions always arise around it, yet for once, let’s imagine it could be clean and risk-free energy as in this 2017 movie, Atomica.
The story begins with a young girl who is a senior technician for the world’s most important energy company that decades earlier invented a method to recycle radioactive waste without dangerous fallout.
For several days communications have ceased at one of these facilities, so she travels to Australia to the middle of a desert in the so-called Red Area.
The company built the first such facility, and there’s the highest density of lethal radioactivity here, so nothing can survive or attempt to get near it.
A helicopter leaves her in front of the plant in her protective suit, then immediately flies away to a safe area.
Inside, however, she finds no one roaming the endless hallways where she expects the two men running the equipment and the enormous underground burial ground packed with dangerous slag to purify.
Out of nowhere comes a very young boy who seems confused about her presence and initially does not understand where the problem is.
Instead, the other man, a scientist friend of the girl’s mentor and boss, is absent, and the boy says he is away for several days to run some tests.
She initially seems concerned about the young man’s mental confusion, attributing it to the long period of isolation in the desert.
However, after she checked the efficiency of nuclear recycling, she discovered terrified the values were far more dangerous than the safety standards.
Moreover, when the scientist returns inside in a critical condition, the situation immediately escalates, and the truths of each character finally come out, along with the dirtiest secrets of the company they work for.
Characters are more important than budget
Right away, Atomica is obviously a low-budget production that obviously cannot have expensive sets and special effects like other 2017 movies.
So don’t expect colorful fights, breathtaking chases, or massive explosions because what matters in this story are the dynamics between the characters.
In this regard, director Dagen Merrill can rely on a solid cast, although not a very numerous one, since we only have three characters on stage, one of whom, by the way, appears only in the last half hour.
Indeed much of the story occurs between the beautiful (and often scantily clad, not that I’m complaining) Sarah Habel and the funny and somewhat neurotic Dominic Monaghan, whom many will remember as the junkie guitarist from the famous TV show Lost.
Their relationship is very entertaining, as she is a serious, bossy professional while he seems carefree and excitable as a boy on vacation.
Don’t think this is a comedy because it is precisely his strange attitude keeping up the tension and leaving us in constant doubt if he is just a fool, a lunatic, or perhaps a dangerous terrorist.
The situation definitely blows up when the great Tom Sizemore comes in since he is the highest cast member and is one of those all-around actors who can play virtually any role.
At that point in this strange triangle, shifting two-to-one alliances form, first between the girl and the scientist and then instead with the young boy.
Especially in the last half-hour, the pace picks up dramatically as she tries to uncover the truth with less and less time on her hands.
We may say that the lack of a high budget is balanced by an excellent atmosphere of character detachment and isolation, enhancing, even more, the effectiveness of a simple but very intriguing screenplay.
Keep the same energy
As previously said, it is always difficult to talk about the nuclear topic without triggering an uproar of opinions.
In this case, the script offers some good insights regarding the energy effectiveness of such a potential resource without downplaying the obvious life damage radiation always causes.
Indeed it is undeniable the more technological diffusion increases, even in the most backward regions of the Earth, the more there will be a need for renewable energy.
In this sense, I found the story’s introduction quick and sloppy, a summary that is not as effective as what happens next.
It would be better to explain the social/political context through the many conversations between the characters in the different situations, as their different personalities provided different perspectives on the topic.
However, even though director Dagen Merrill has a low budget, he puts several visually satisfying technologies in scenes, such as the tomb with the vast fans, to cool the dangerous haul of nuclear waste.
Somewhat less visually appealing are the few spaceships or the characters’ suits, obviously scuba diving uniforms repurposed and cut to look futuristic high tech.
Those don’t matter, ultimately, because once inside the warehouse, the characters’ personalities grab all our attention.
The narrative offers a good alternation of moments of personal introspection, funny silliness, and excellent thriller tension.
Obviously, Atomica was not a big hit in 2017 because this movie could have been more distributed and publicized to mass audiences.
This was a pity because, although it obviously would not have made the box office receipts of Avengers Endgame, the presence of Tom Sizemore and Dominic Monaghan could undoubtedly attract some fans to theaters.
For that reason, I recommend it here today, as I often do with so many little-known movies.