Before I started thinking about writing my review of The Divide, I wondered why every post-apocalyptic flick is such a bummer. What if decimation led to utopia? No evil robots, no power outages, no zombies, no Soylent Green on the menu, and nobody going insane or living underground. Wait a minute: they did make that movie. It's called Nobody Wants To See That.
French filmmaker Xavier Gens made a scarlet red splash with his uber-violent and super-stylish directorial debut, Frontier(s). Encouraged by critical acclaim he's now taking on the end of days, putting The Divide in brisk company along with Take Shelter, Melancholia, and Another World. As it turns out, The Divide is less about world events, even less about story. It's just another rage-fueled, tired torture porn as far as I'm concerned, but for those who like that sort of thing — The Divide is at least a well-acted one. Michael Biehn and Rosanna Arquette are the standouts. He's a vicious victimizer, while she is a vixenish victim. Both are of the lowest order when it comes to content of character, but as the film fumbles forward, tables are turned, motives shift, and allegiances realign.
Most everyone, including the actors, agree The Divide film is a bit of a mess because they were all reportedly given free reign to not only ad-lib but completely rewrite their roles if they wished to. Personally, I think the film is more than a bit of a mess — as is usually the case when scripts are played fast and loose after the cameras start rolling (case in point: Rob Zombie's H2, one of the worst movies I have ever seen, and more so the disappointment as it comes from one of my favorite directors).
The Divide plot centers on a cache of neighbors who've survived a nuclear strike and seek refuge in the basement of their apartment building. Fortunately, Mickey the maintenance man (Michael Biehn) was paranoid due to 9/11 PTSD and stocked the stronghold with canned foods, blankets, water, restraints, and lots and lots of weapons. Wait. Did I say "fortunately"?
But before we get to all the sadistic mayhem, we meet our players, mainly consisting of an estranged couple played by Lauren German and Ivan Gonzalez; half-brothers played by Milo Ventimiglia and Ashton Holmes; Arquette as a beaten-down single mom, and Courtney B. Vance as a world-weary wildcard.
As the weeks drag by and personalities are stripped of the niceties, a vile, vicious and mean-spirited Lord-of-the-Flies-Gens-style unfolds. They discover they've been locked inside, quarantined. They realize they are beyond sick, when their hair begins to loosen from their scaly scalps and blood dribbles from their mouths. There is violence, harsh words, ugliness, rape, thrashings, lies, manipulation, and murder. As the personnel shifts and morphs, it's pointless to root for anyone or to try and guess who might emerge victorious (especially knowing that the inmates were running the asylum - both in real, and reel, life… true, we do live life without a script; but that doesn't mean movies should unfold in the same manner). Shortly into The Divide, I was fed up and disgusted. I actually watched it twice, wanting to give it as fair a shake as I could. I liked it even less the second time around. (I do, however, agree to the festival-goers' buzz on the caliber of acting.)
Grim, bleak, depressing and disturbing are all words apt to describe The Divide. In the hands of visionaries like Lars Von Trier (Anti-Christ, Melancholia), these can be an amazing array of nuanced, emotions to stir and thoughts to provoke… but Gens gives us only blunt-force trauma.
The Divide is currently available via download, and will have a limited theatrical run beginning January 13, 2012.
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Reviewed by Staci Layne Wilson