“The Divide” marks the return of French director Xavier Gens, following up his slightly better than expected videogame adaptation “Hitman” with a return to the dark brutality of his harrowing “Frontier(s)”, still one of the very best of the recent wave of Gallic gore. The film again sees the director working in the English language, with a fine genre cast headlined by Lauren German (“Hostel 2”) and legendary James Cameron favourite Michael Biehn, along with Milo Ventimiglia (“Heroes”), Courtney B. Vance (“Final Destination 5”), Ashton Holmes (“Nikita”) and Rosanna Arquette (“Pulp Fiction”) in a grim tale of nuclear blast survivors turning against each other in an underground bunker.
The film kicks off in spectacular, disorienting fashion, as a presumed nuclear strike hits New York, forcing eight strangers to take shelter in the bomb shelter basement of an apartment building run by paranoid superintendent Mickey (Biehn). Although the small, three room complex has food and water, their illusion of safety is quickly shattered after men in biohazard suits break in and without warning snatch one of the group and attempt to kill the rest before they are driven out and the door sealed. Now trapped, with supplies running out and the threat of radiation poisoning looming large, the survivors try to come to terms with their hopeless situation, though the tension quickly rises, with Mickey attempting to rule with an iron first and a young woman called Eva (German) trying to protect herself and her weak fiancé from the increasingly violent other males.
Rather like its characters, “The Divide” is a conflicted film, with Gens seeming to be torn between a searchingly nihilistic meditation on the human condition and good old fashioned high concept exploitation. Whilst he doesn’t do too bad a job, the film never shows the same successful melding of elements that his superb “Frontier(s)” did, with several lapses in focus and a ponderous line in pedestrian philosophy that is likely to please neither genre fans nor viewers looking for something a little more highbrow. Over use of slow motion during dramatic scenes and a painfully overwrought emo soundtrack don’t really help, nor does a slow pace and a needlessly long running time of nearly two hours – the film would certainly have benefitted from judicious trimming of its uneventful middle section.
This is possibly all a little harsh, and though frustrating at times, “The Divide” still has a lot to offer, with Gens managing a reasonable level of intensity and showing the same flair for grimy perversion and desperation that he did in “Frontier(s)”. The film generally avoids pulling its punches, and is certainly one of the very few to offer a semi believable depiction of the post apocalyptic experience, with its cast all being put through the grinder and having their faces convincingly dirtied. The basement itself makes for an acutely claustrophobic setting, Gens showing some imaginative camera work that gives the feeling of being hemmed in without things ever getting visually dull, and the film has a clammy atmosphere of foreboding dread throughout. Unsurprisingly, things do get pretty unpleasant, and the film has its share of gruesome scenes of violence, torture and sexual abuse, enough so to give it an all important hard edge. However, Gens does also show a fair amount of restraint, never allowing things to ever get too crazy or degenerate, which is either good news or bad news, depending on the viewer’s disposition.
The film definitely receives a boost from its excellent cast, with Michael Biehn in particular on the best form he’s been on in some years, twitchy and unsympathetic, yet still recognisably human as the hostile Mickey. Lauren German is similarly effective as Eve, increasingly carrying the film as its only half likeable character, and Rosanna Arquette impresses in a difficult and rather thankless role. Although aside from Biehn none of the other male cast members really stand out, this is due to the script rather than the actors, which quickly settles into broad stereotypes and definitions of masculinity.
It’s again things like this which to an extent undermine “The Divide”, meaning that it never quite attains the dramatic punch or level of dark psychological depth that Gens seems to be aiming for. Working better when focusing on its suspense thriller and more genre friendly elements, the film still stands as a solidly entertaining and mildly shocking outing for its obviously talented director, though it’s hard not to feel that it could have been improved by a little editing and less heavy handed angst.
Xavier Gens (director) / Karl Mueller, Eron Sheean (screenplay)
CAST: Lauren German … Eva
Michael Biehn … Mickey
Milo Ventimiglia … Josh
Courtney B. Vance … Delvin
Ashton Holmes … Adrien
Rosanna Arquette … Marilyn
Iván González … Sam
Michael Eklund … Bobby