The Divide: Review

This is not a happy apocalypse.

Screen Art
Title The Divide
Studio Anchor Bay Films
Director Xavier Gens
Starring Lauren German, Milo Ventimiglia, Michael Biehn
Genre Post Apocalyptic Horror
Rating R
Release Year 2012

When it comes to post-apocalyptic fiction, tone is often restricted to varying degrees of bleak. For the darker shades, the heart of the film – and more importantly, the hope – often lies with a core group of survivors. In The Road, for example, it’s the father’s love for his son that keeps a grim story from becoming unbearable. The Mist takes this approach as well, but to a devastating end. As for The Divide, well… let’s just say it’s at the farthest side of the spectrum.

Of course, The Divide never suggests it’s going to be a light affair. In the opening moments of the film, New York City is melting in the flames of a nuclear attack – and things only get worse from thereon. The story centers around the character of Eva (Lauren German), a young woman who has fled into the basement shelter owned by her apartment’s super (Michael Biehn), along with her timid fiancé, and a handful of other tenants. Faced with both the prospect of never being able to escape the shelter and the reality of dwindling supplies, the survivors are sent into a grim downward spiral of madness and brutality.

The Divide is a film that I have been waiting to see for years. French Director Xavier Gens’ debut film, Frontier(s), played it pretty close to your typical torture porn flick, but managed to set itself apart in the details. Although Frontier(s) carried a few moments of tantalizing social commentary with it (particularly in the closing moments) and an incredibly strong female lead, the film stayed with me due to Gens’ direction and visual style. There was one scene in particular where amidst absolute darkness and terror – between the cinematography and score – Gens found a perfect moment of haunting beauty, and that scene alone has made me eager to follow the man’s film career.

Thankfully, The Divide is little different in this respect. Although the content is unrelentingly bleak, Gens finds moments of sheer aesthetic beauty within it all. The film’s closing minutes are absolutely haunting, thanks to the film’s piano driven post-rock score, and some truly striking visuals. If nothing else, the film itself is certainly riveting thanks to the aesthetic direction. Beyond that however, it gets pretty dark.

See, it’s not exactly a satisfying film; redemption of character is, at best, only suggested here. The basic premise is the primal degeneration of character that occurs with limited resources and no hope for escape. Eventually, almost all of those trapped in the shelter slip into madness and brutality – ultimately to the point of utter derangement. As pleasant as that subject matter is, the greatest issue lies with the pacing of the film. There are numerous moments throughout where either a character’s spike into madness feels out of place, coming with a blindside and a side of hammy acting, or taking a sudden dive that’s too difficult to believe. In short, it feels choppy. Also frustrating, is that when the lesser of two evils is revealed, Eva simply refuses to act on the obvious choice until far too late into the film. Granted, these are people that saw their city decimated by a nuclear bomb and have almost no hope of escape; they’re going to be erratic. Still, that doesn’t mean that as a film the pacing has to be so sloppy.

My last complain lies with the acting which, admittedly, is a mixed bag. Not having seen Hostel II, my only prior experience with Lauren German (who plays the film’s lead, Eva) was through the short lived and fairly awful television series, Happy Town. She’s definitely got an enchanting look about her, but it doesn’t hide the fact that she spends most of the film looking entirely checked out, wearing the same blank expression in just about every scene in memory. Again, you can chalk it up to the nuclear blast, her backstory (that is only hinted at briefly), or the surrounding events, but there’s something about her that just seems a bit too sedate for the role. Both Milo Ventigmila (who I am already rather partial to due to his work on Heroes and – dare I say it – Gilmore Girls) and Michael Eklund offer some seriously impressive and dedicated performances, particularly as the film moves toward its conclusion, but they’re not without fault. During the first third of the film, it seems that everyone has at least one line that just feels particularly clumsy and awkward. Michael Biehn’s character definitely grew on me as the film progressed, but in the opening he just seems too exaggerated, and too much of caricature. The worst of the lot, though, easily goes to Patricia Arquette. Despite a few moments with some impressive work in the eyes near the end, her performance is simply over the top and grating. I’m not sure if someone else could have pulled off the character or not, but with regard to what we get on the screen, it just doesn’t work.

 

CONCLUSION

For all of its flaws I didn’t hate The Divide, although I can see why many would. The story and descent of the characters truly reside in the darkest shade of bleak, saved only by suggestions and occasional murmurs of decency from the antagonists. Throughout the film, the backstories for both the characters and the nuclear event itself are only teased at – a line of dialog here, a visual clue there – and while I didn’t mind it holding back on these things, it seems that more emphasis there could have helped with the overall balance. As it is, the film is every bit as erratic as the characters themselves, leaving behind only too many tantalizing glimpses of beauty, decency, and what could have been in a better world.

our RATING:

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