The Divide, 2011.
Directed by Xavier Gens.
Starring Lauren German, Michael Biehn, Ashton Holmes, Milo Ventimiglia, Courtney B. Vance and Rosanna Arquette.
Following a nuclear attack, a group of survivors find themselves grouped together in the basement of their apartment building.
After his Hollywood directorial debut Hitman, Xavier Gens’ follow up movie wasn’t exactly going to cause cinema goers to get giddy with excitement. That film, as with most video game/movie crossovers, was woeful and stylistically did little else but blot the copybook of all involved, particularly the man at the helm. Saying that, in this film's favour, it is a stripped back survival mystery horror with an intriguing cast, most notably a certain Michael Biehn. There’s no marketing agendas, no fanboys to wind up and none of the stigma that attaches itself to any video game-based movie.
The Divide opens with a nuclear attack from an un-named opposing element. A few tenants of an apartment building flee in panic and barricade themselves in the basement, along with the building super, Mickey (Biehn). From that point on they are trapped within the confines of the basement, with the unpredictable Mickey taking charge of keeping the group from escaping and possible nuclear fallout dust from getting inside. The tension is briefly interrupted and accentuated when the locked strong door keeping them housed is forced open from the outside. A group of armed soldiers in radiation suits storm in, abduct the child of Marylin, and attack other members of the group. Mickey and Delvin (Courtney B. Vance) manage to kill two of the soldiers. The remainder leave and the group are again closed off. The temperamental Josh (Milo Ventimiglia) volunteers to don a radiation suit from one of the dead soldiers, and venture out to see if he can find out what’s happening. All hell breaks loose as he sees more than he bargained for and returns having killed two more. Then the outsiders seal the group in firmly by welding the door. From then on it’s all about the dynamic of the trapped inhabitants and how each copes with their own sanity (or not).
The film is similar in vein to The Hole (2001) with a sprinkling of REC and a dash of Cube. Whilst better than the first, it doesn’t compare favourably to the latter two cult classics. Obviously given the genre, we expect deaths and a certain amount of gruesomeness, but the film somewhat grinds to a halt once the matter of the outsiders is dealt with. There is certainly an interesting antagonist shift when Mickey is overthrown by Josh and his friend. There’s a new and even more unhinged threat from then on. We’ve seen films like this before and similar studies in the delicate nature of sanity and the civilised. We’re offered nothing new with these characters. Unlike Cube, we’re teased a little with the reasoning and identity of what’s going on outside. We get some glimpses we didn’t in Cube. The problem is we get given some, it sparks interest and then we’re offered no more. There should be total mystery if you want to play the teasing game and allow the audience to imagine, consider and theorise. The pace in The Divide slows too much in the final half and the claustrophobia that works so well initially then becomes tiresome as the audience longs for more outside interference.
Despite the flaws and the fact that Gens and writers Karl Mueller and Eeron Sheean lose grip of their film somewhat, the cast hold enough interest to pull us through to the end. Michael Biehn channels his performance in The Abyss as he goes loco again. Biehn offers intensity and revels in his role. There’s no particularly clear protagonist here, but Lauren German is officially on leading duties. She becomes more prominent as the movie progresses, before coming to the fore. Not a bad thing I suppose (see Alien), but there’s just not enough character given to her. Despite this she’s evocative and does well. Ventimiglia is very good too in a role far more intense than I’ve seen of him and indeed thought he was ever capable of. The remainder of the cast, including Rosanna Arquette all prove adept and manage to carry the film.
Visually The Divide looks good, with Gens toning down the hyperactive style of Hitman for this darker, grimier and more considered film. The effects are impressive too, though gore fiends may expect a little more. The music from Jean-Pierre Taieb is atmospheric, simple and effective. It’s all technically proficient, but again, the real shame is that the film just loses grip of tension and interest and overstays its welcome somewhat, despite solid work by the cast.
Genre fans will find enough to enjoy here. It opens well, which makes the tail off all the more disappointing. Strong performances from the films two most recognisable male cast members, Biehn and Ventimiglia, make this a step up from standard straight-to-video entries (which, with a small theatrical release, this is more) but there’s not quite enough here to warrant bolting yourself into this basement for a revisit.
The Divide is released in UK cinemas this Friday (April 20th) and hits DVD on May 14th.
Flickering Myth Rating - Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★