FrightFest 2011 Review: The Divide
If like me you have a penchant for post-apocalyptic narratives that are unrelentingly bleak and mercilessly grim, then The Divide is definitely the film for you. Xavier Gens made his name as part of the new wave of French horror filmmakers with his flawed but endearingly bonkers Frontier(s) which soon led to the inevitable call from Hollywood, culminating in the rather dreadful videogame adaptation of Hitman. This was a disappointing turn of events from such a promising young director, however unsurprisingly reports have been flying around stating that the film was extensively fiddled with and re-shot by Fox, who reportedly thought Gens’s cut was too violent. So, with The Divide he has returned to filmmaking on a much smaller scale which has enabled him complete creative control, including shooting chronologically and allowing the cast extensive opportunity to improvise. Unsurprisingly this is also a return to form.
The premise is fairly simple; New York is nuked and a group of survivors find themselves holed up in the basement of their apartment building that also doubles as a fallout bunker, created by their paranoid 9/11 survivor maintenance man, Mickey (Michael Biehn). The survivors consist of half-brothers Josh (Milo Ventimiglia) and Adrien (Ashton Holmes) their wild card friend Bobby (Michael Eklund), Eva (Lauren German) and Sam (Iván González) a young couple whose relationship is on the rocks, Marilyn (Rosanna Arquette) and her young daughter Wendy (Abbey Thickson), and the world weary Delvin (Courtney B. Vance).
Early on in the film outsiders in HAZMAT suits break into the basement and quickly prove themselves to be pretty far removed from the rescue committee that the survivors had been hoping for, instead welding the basement door closed, permanently trapping the survivors inside. This is when their resolve starts to slip; they realise that no help is on the way, their supplies are dwindling, and the radiation poisoning is starting to set in. What little trust they have in each other soon begins to vanish as they discover that Mickey has been holding out on them and keeping a massive stash of supplies hidden, creating bubbling tension that erupts in violence and torture.
Weeks pass, people get sick, their hair starts to fall out, they are coughing up blood and becoming increasing aware of their own mortality. Cabin fever also sets in and with their dwindling sanity goes any shred of humanity that they had left. Their desperation becomes palpable and it soon it becomes every man for himself, kill or be killed. With Micky indisposed, Josh and Bobby assert their dominance over the group, controlling them with mind games and fear. Both Milo Ventimiglia and Michael Eklund turn in incredibly strong performances as their characters become increasingly psychotic and power hungry. Michael Biehn also gives his best performance in a long time as the paranoid cigar munching janitor, along with Rosanna Arquette who gives a brave and unnerving performance as the desperate Marilyn. All of the characters may initially appear to be stereotypes but this quickly changes as they become increasingly unpredictable and each occupies their own grey area; being both at once sympathetic and depraved. There are no clear heroes or villains in this film. Eva is perhaps the character to retain a sense of composure but even she is ultimately only looking out for herself.
If you’re looking for a happy ending, or even something verging on life affirming, then The Divide is probably not the film for you. From the get go this is a character study under the guise of a post-apocalyptic horror movie, not that it isn’t those things, but really this is a film about the truly loathsome and fickle nature of humanity . Clearly this is the sort of film that will divide people; I’ve seen criticisms of it being almost indulgently grim to the point of excess and the improvised acting leading to hammy shouting competitions. But I disagree; I think the improvisation adds a raw sort of realness to an unfathomable but altogether unsurprising narrative that deals with a very difficult theme. This isn’t an easy watch, but I was riveted from start to finish.
The official website states that The Divide will be in theatres in 2012, although not specific date is given. But if you are a fan of challenging cinema that will stay with you for days after viewing, then I’d highly recommend keeping an eye out for this.
The Divide (2011)
Directed by: Xavier Gens
Starring: Michael Biehn, Milo Ventimiglia, Roanna Arquette