Sunday, 29 April 2012

Film Review: The Divide

Certificate: 18 (disturbing strong violence and sexuality, and for pervasive language)
Directed By: Xavier Gens
Cast: Lauren German, Michael Biehn, Milo Ventimiglia, Courtney B. Vance, Ashton Holmes, Rosanna Arquette, Iván González, Michael Eklund, Abbey Thickson
Budget: $3 million
Runtime: 122 minutes
Trailer: Watch

The Divide begins with the spectacular opening of a nuclear weapon hitting New York. Why none of the onlookers staring directly at the blast are blinded by the flash remains a mystery, but after a Darwinian scramble to evacuate an apartment building a handful of neighbours make their way to the building super's (Biehn) basement-come-fallout shelter. Not long after does the 'fun' of surviving take a turn for the bizarre.

I say fun because for sadists the subsequent torture porn fits their definition of the word. Indeed, The Divide gets progressively nasty as it goes along, living up to its tagline "the lucky ones died in the blast". It is essentially a tale, or rather a social experiment of what would happen if only the worst hyperboles of humanity survived the end of the world where the tagline "What not to do in the apocalypse" could just as easily be applied. The Divide is less concerned with what happens to the survivors of a nuclear war and more about how far they will go to inflict further suffering on their fellow man. However, for a film all about rape and torture, there is only so much of this one can watch before getting bored.

On face value The Divide actually seems like quite an interesting idea, but it soon becomes apparent its premise is really just an excuse to 'prove' that under circumstances of extreme duress, humans will start running around maiming each other. Admittedly there does seem to be an attempt to add some intriguing narrative when some hazmat-suited goons invade the bunker, steal a kid (Thickson) and disappear into a strange network of plastic tubing attached to the shelter's door, but no sooner after this happens is this plotline literally welded shut and we hear no more of it. No explanation of who they were or why they took the child. These are questions which don't seem to bother the group much either as they resume the more important task of figuring out how to best degrade each other next. That's not to say the hazmat people don't serve a purpose, indeed they provide a Chekov's gun in the form of the bunker's only working hazmat suit. This however is only doubly frustrating as it could have been introduced in a far simpler way, such as Mickey having bought one, without leaving an incomplete plot strand. Other discrepancies include questions over how a bunker stockpiled for the survival of one manages to sustain nine people and more to the point that, despite this, why there is a never ending supply of booze and cigarettes while food has to be rationed. No wonder then that the bunker's inhabitants descend into brawls and debauchery with so many inebriants readily available.

There isn't really a likeable protagonist here either as all are caricatures embodying the worst elements of humanity. The most recognisable face on show is one Michael Biehn of Terminator and Aliens fame which, given these credentials, one might think a perfect ally at the end of the world. He plays Mickey, a creepy survivalist who owns the bunker and at least has some semblance of sense regarding what to do in the event of a nuclear attack. He is not however the world's friendliest chap, inevitably faltering to the barbarity and stupidity of his companions. Heading up the rest of this microcosmic collapse of civilization are Josh (Ventimiglia) and Bobby (Eklund), already unsavoury characters when they enter, impossibly worse by the end. The rest are insipidly docile. Main character Eva (German) remains peculiarly quiet, whether to signify some unmerited poignance or to serve as the audience's fly on the wall it's not quite clear. The only time she breaks her silence is to ask if her husband Sam (González), the most drivelling whinger of the lot, is ok. To which he snappily replies "Yes, I'm just dealing with a lot!". Yeah, you and everyone else who just survived nuclear holocaust, buddy. And that's not to mention the batshit hysterical middle-aged mother Marilyn (Arquette), who rationalises her decision to become the bunker's resident whore as being the most productive way she can contribute. The only decent guy is stoic Delvin (Vance), who lasts about as long as you'd expect any black person trapped in a vault with a bunch of crazy white people.

Ultimately this is a depressingly austere vision of that controversial topic human nature. The fundamental problem with a film where you're going to lock nine people in a room and watch them get on is that to make it interesting you need each character to have both depth and intriguing relationships with the others. The Divide's characters however only make the basic assumption that all people are vile and wicked. Yet without providing any context other than 'they just are' means that nothing this film forwards justifiable. The Divide displays an utter lack of faith in humanity, probably preaching to the misanthropic choir who dogmatically believe that all human beings are evil.


Ελλάδα said...

"No moral, no message, no prophetic tract, just a simple statement of fact: for civilization to survive, the human race has to remain civilized. Tonight's very small exercise in logic from the Twilight Zone."

Whenever I see a bomb shelter movie, I always think about this "Twilight Zone" episode. It is the one where there is limited room in a bomb shelter as a Civil Defense announcement is made. The neighbors turn violent. Likewise in this film, it is the examination of people's character. Plot continuity is unimportant to the film. As a side note, notice the importance of plastic sheeting and duct tape during a terrorist attack.

The action starts from the opening clip. No time for character build-up. The reason why there is no character build-up is that the people represent different aspects of society/human psyche. Mickey, (Michael Biehn) the super of a NYC apartment building has made a shelter in the basement...for himself. He ends up with a group of tenets which he resents and they likewise despise his cigar smoking rough ways. While he is hard-nosed, he looks out for everyone's safety. He won't win any congeniality contests.