Review: Syfy Film’s ‘Atomica,’ Effective Sci-Fi Thriller

The latest from Syfy Films, Dagen Merrill’s Atomica (formerly Deep Burial), is a futuristic thriller, set in a world where atomic power is what keeps the planet running. Ran entirely by one company, a desert facility begins to suffer strange problems, and safety inspector, Abby Dixon (Sarah Habel), sets out to see if she can repair the problems.

Once there, she encounters maintenance worker, Robinson (Dominic Monaghan), who seems rather … off. His response to her arrival and evasive answers to her questions regarding the absence of the man in charge of the facility, Dr. Zek (Tom Sizemore), lead her to become rather suspicious.

Mechanical issues and computer glitches lead the viewer to wonder just what is going on, here. This is just as much a suspense thriller as it is a science fiction film, and it’s effective in that vein. The film’s a lean 81 minutes and looks rather better than most Syfy films thus far released. Given the company’s reputation for rather cheesy productions, it was a pleasant surprise to be viewing something which utilized minimal CGI.

There is a bit of CGI here and there, but as stated, it’s minimal and used well. The majority of Atomica instead is based on the tension which arises from the interactions between the more proper Dixon and the quite relaxed Robinson. From the moment the two meet, there’s an obvious sense that something is obviously awry, but exactly what isn’t clear.

Even with the eventual arrival of the missing Dr. Zek, things aren’t immediately cleared up. There’s further subterfuge, and eventually, revelation upon revelation end up revealing a grand plot which stretches all the way back to the very beginning of Atomica. It’s an explosive conclusion, although not completely narratively satisfying.

However, given the fact that Atomica takes time at its outset to create a world and give the characters a modicum of backstory in a way which seems organic, rather than the usual expository monologue. The film’s world is an actual construct, rather than a thin framework on which to hang a series of action-oriented set pieces.

To be sure, there are some moments of crash and bang, but for the most part, Merrill plays off the interaction between his characters, instead of opting for crazed visuals. That’s not to say that the film doesn’t look good, though. Despite the practical effects, the underground compound in which Atomica is set looks like a future gone to seed. It’s lived-in and worn, and the problems which crop are all the more believable for it.

All in all, Syfy’s production of Dagen Merrill’s Atomica comes off far better than most of the films from the studio. It’s serious and rarely does the director mine the script by Kevin Burke, Fred Fernandez-Armesto, and Adam Gyngell for possible wink-and-nod laughs. Any humorous points are intentional, so if nothing else, it’s great to see Syfy finally moving in the direction of movies which take themselves seriously, while also being something which can be taken seriously by the viewer. Atomica’s creepy vibe might not be the height of terror, but it’s definitely worth checking out.

The film is set for a March 17, 2017 theatrical release, along with a March 21, 2017 VOD release.