PLOT: After a nuclear bomb levels New York City – and presumably the rest of the U.S. - a small band of survivors lock themselves in an underground bunker with only a small amount of food and water to sustain them. It doesn't take long for the pressure, fear and paranoia to take hold...
REVIEW: A grimy, depressing trudge through the ugliest instincts of society in peril, THE DIVIDE tackles the age-old issue of humanity's predisposition toward fighting against itself in a time of crisis – with mostly predictable results. Though technically well made, and very strongly acted, the film – from French director Xavier Gens (FRONTIERE(S), HITMAN) – has nothing particularly fresh to say about what monsters people can be when their backs are up against the wall.
THE DIVIDE wastes no time arriving at its cataclysmic event: within the first minute of the film, Manhattan has been nuked, and the tenants of one particular building scramble for cover. After the walls have begun to tumble down and glass has sprayed in every direction, only nine survivors manage to make it to the basement apartment (actually, more like a bunker) of grizzled superintendent Mickey (Michael Biehn). As the frightened people struggle to comprehend the event, Mickey immediately takes charge. Obviously irked by having to share his living space, it's his prerogative to start laying down some ground rules, one of which is: no one shall be allowed to leave, for fear of contaminated air seeping in and finishing the job of the bomb outside.
It becomes obvious that this would be a problematic bunch without a nuclear holocaust. In addition to Mickey, there's a mismatched couple on shaky ground (Lauren German, Ivan Rodriguez), two loudmouth jerks (Milo Ventimiglia, Michael Eklund), the timid brother of one of the jerks (Ashton Holmes), a worried mother (Rosanna Arquette) and her scared daughter Abbey Thickson), and a sour man (Courtney B. Vance) who instantly butts heads with Mickey. Anyone would be hard-pressed to stay cool under pressure while the world is possibly ending, but our protagonists find a way to amp up the tension quite swiftly; multiple arguments breed suspicion and unease and things go from worse to horrifying when the group is visited by a swarm of mysterious men in futuristic white suits.
This latter occurrence provides THE DIVIDE with some of its most tantalizingly creepy material, but ultimately the screenplay (by Eron Sheean and Karl Mueller) is not much interested in it. Instead, we're given over to the gloomy saga of the survivors' rapid descent into icky bad behavior. Before you know it, they're chopping up bodies, defecating on the floor and having perversely gross sex. The two jerks transform into insane barbarians who dominate the situation and transform the shelter into a makeshift hell, while the others cower and brood. In other words, the future of the human race looks pretty grim...
Rod Serling told tales like this multiple times on “The Twilight Zone” - gravely assured us that people would sooner claw each others eyes out than come together during a disaster – and he didn't need disfigurement and brutality to do it. THE DIVIDE could actually have used a writer of Serling's talent to conjure up a more imaginative narrative; once the second act of the film kicks in, nothing much of note happens, other than the increased dehumanization of Ventimiglia and Eklund's vile characters. These two hog the screen so much that there's hardly a chance to develop the others, and the initial complexity of the group falls by the wayside.
Failure to maintain a strong momentum aside, Gens manages to keep things watchable by crafting several memorable images amid the carnage; there are a handful of queasy moments that may well keep you up at night, and there's no doubt that viewers without strong stomachs will want to flee the theater early on in lieu of wallowing in this filthy sty a second longer. He may not be a master of suspense, but Gens can certainly create some jarring visuals when he wants to, and a grotesque curiosity - just how depraved is this situation going to get? - lingers throughout.
Gens also has cast the movie very well, and the harsh scenario is made all the more visceral thanks to a strong bevy of actors up to the task of wading through the misery; the material isn't always thought-provoking, but these performers chomp into the script heartily (some damn near swallow it whole). Biehn in particular shows what an imposing screen presence he can be, and this role is one he has to have been waiting for these many years off the mainstream map. His Mickey may be a gruff misanthrope, but he's not without humanity, and the actor makes us dislike him and respect him simultaneously. Ventimiglia throws himself heedlessly into the role of Josh, an angry young man who lets the tragedy affect him in bizarre and terrible ways. It's an over-the-top performance, to be sure, but Ventimiglia goes there convincingly. And Rosanna Arquette must be given a special mention, if only because her character is put through the most grueling degradation in the film; it could best be described as “brave”.
Whether you admire its harsh world view or bristle at its lack of originality, there is one thing certain about THE DIVIDE: No movie this (or any other) year will make you more desperate for a shower.