Studio: Syfy Films
Director: Dagen Merrill
Writer: Kevin Burke, Adam Gyngell, Fred Fernandez-Armesto
Producer: Jaime Burke, Vahan Paretchan
Stars: Dominic Monaghan, Sarah Habel, Tom Sizemore
An engineer investigating a malfunction at a futuristic energy facility comes to believe its caretaker is hiding a secret.
When the meltdown of three nuclear power plants created a dire crisis in 2018, energy corporation Auxilisun responded by erecting a fission engine over the disaster site capable of creating a renewable energy resource from the radiation. Killing two birds with one experimental reactor resulted in the energy revolution of 2025.
Given the site’s importance in keeping the danger contained, chief technical engineer Abby Dixon is immediately alarmed when the Gibson Desert North facility’s communication systems suddenly go offline. With no other engineers available, Abby elects to personally inspect the remote facility for herself and find out what went wrong.
Gibson Desert North only staffs two people. Abby meets facility caretaker Robinson Scott, a strangely furtive man with questionable social skills. But there is no sign of resident scientist Dr. Zek, who Robinson claims went outside to the desert some time ago for reasons unknown and has yet to return.
Abby’s one-woman investigation starts uncovering anomalies faster than she can figure out what they mean. Robinson is suspiciously uncooperative in getting to the bottom of the power failure, possibly because he is suffering from sensory deprivation psychosis due to prolonged isolation.
Abby is sure she needs to find Zek if she is to solve the mystery and get the station back online. Yet when she finally does discover where the doctor has been and what happened to him, her situation grows more uncertain. Robinson and Zek seem to hide secrets that are not the same, and there is no telling who Abby can trust to tell her the truth about the facility.
Starting with “The Next Generation,” “Star Trek” series writers had shorthand for when they would come to a spot in the story where dialogue devolved into necessary babble. They would type something temporary like “[tech speak]” into the script and move on to meatier matters of plotting. Then somebody on a lower rung of the writer’s room ladder would come in later and conjure up interchangeable nonsense about warp drive specifications, transporter technical data, or what have you to fill the blank.
“Atomica” feels like someone did something similar for the full first act. “Atomica” is almost exclusively about conversational interplay between three people, two for much of the movie, and initial introductions for Abby and Robinson are occupied by quite a bit of “[whatever]” constituting dialogue and character development.
Access levels, procedural protocols, and radiation calibrations provide the bulk of their banter. Robinson also gets an extended monologue about mistakenly smoking a piece of the Berlin Wall (don’t ask) while Abby gets her own recurring thread, one which ends up running full stop into a third act wall, about a euthanized grandmother whose death haunts her dreams. It’s all mostly disposable chatter that doesn’t move the movie much in any specific direction.
What does move the movie is the general appeal of stars Dominic Monaghan and Sarah Habel. Their onscreen chemistry as uneasy coworkers eyeing each other oddly never hits a temperature higher than lukewarm. But their presences are so personable that naturally-channeled charm milks the material as much as it can. Two lower level actors and their often dull interactions would be interminable.
CGI is on the usual level for a Syfy production, meaning the bigger your screen, the less realistic it looks. An early sequence of a transport ship dropping off Abby takes longer than necessary, as though someone had an idea to flaunt a few FX for filler when they would be better played sparingly. Believable futurism quickly becomes moot when “Atomica” reveals it has a far different environment in store.
Despite the science-fiction/thriller classification, expectations should be tempered for not too much of either. Even with a near future time period, almost the entire story occurs in a subterranean industrial building of rusted-out bowels accented by a blue tint. An atmosphere this uninvitingly cold keeps the energy level chilled, too.
Also, the plot’s interpersonal intimacy doesn’t quite set the table for high stakes complexity. When one man shaving another with the question of what else his razor might cut qualifies as a key moment, suspense is going to have a hard time stealing breath or bowling over anybody with wonder.
“Atomica” doesn’t have the juice to fuel its moderately futuristic fantasy with overwhelming intrigue for long. For fans of Dominic Monaghan and/or Sarah Habel (Miss Grundy of “Riverdale”), “Atomica” has a better hook, because there is a lot, and I do mean a lot, of these two actors onscreen. See it for them. Maybe don’t see it for anything else.
NOTE: There is a mid-credits scene.
Review Score: 50