Sometimes a tagline alone can peak my interest in a movie and THE DIVIDE already had my interest by being a minimalist post-apocalyptic thriller. The tagline though, “The lucky ones died in the blast” isn’t just a perfect way to describe the film is a pitch perfect way to sell the movie to a horror lover and just as great to cater to the curiosity of someone scanning the DVD shelves of their local video store. Surviving a nuclear holocaust would be a feat in and of itself, but if surviving that tragedy ends up being anything like THE DIVIDE, then the ones who die during the blast are indeed the lucky ones.
The film begins as a city- presumably New York- being bombed or at least that’s what is speculated. As tenants of an apartment building race for shelter a handful of diverse citizens push their way into a fallout shelter built by the building’s super, Mickey (Michael Biehn). The survivors are all quite different but all have one thing in common- they are all horrible human beings. Laura German, who plays Eva, is maybe the only redeemable person of the bunch but even that is debatable as a certain point. The tension between the survivors now must endure an unending barrage of challenges from the threat of starvation, radiation and perhaps worst of all, themselves.
The challenging thing about THE DIVIDE is just how brutal, ugly and outright grim the situation is, but also the words and actions of the people stuck in the shelter together. It’s hard to speculate if this is how real people would act, but in my opinion this is a startlingly plausible vision of what one section of this story could look like. If you picture desperately seeking shelter in a time of disaster and the odds you’ll end up with overly kind hearted and well doing people are depressingly low. Add in the stress of looming death of a loved one and your own mortality in the hands of people around you and the nicest of people are capable of horrible things. Xavier Gens may come off as a bit cynical with his treatment of the situation but in my opinion he’s also being a realist in his exploration of even more complex human emotions.
If the dark and disturbing turns each character makes isn’t enough for you, once that piano interlude kicks in over certain moments of the film that should hammer home just how bleak Gens’ vision is. Moments of genuine struggle are overlayed by those soft piano chords while other more sci fi moments or tense fights are accompanied by a darker bit of music fit for a science fiction horror film and the contrast of the two do a great job at breaking up certain sections and giving each their own signature feel. The audio isn’t all it’s cracked up to be thought because aside from the music there are some pretty jarring flubs in terms of the way some of the characters dialogue sounds- rather that’s on the actor’s end or otherwise I’m not pointing fingers but at certain times everyone’s tone and audio level were definitely not synced up and at times some characters sounded perfectly clear while others seemed like they were shouting down a hallway.
The performances are very inspired to say the least. Not everyone is perfect but they all have their moments of greatness, however I personally feel that Michael Ecklund steals the show as Bobby. He does so later on in the film when things get really weird as opposed toward the beginning when everyone is at least trying to be civil. That can be said for the whole cast though- in the beginning it just seems like everyone is testing the waters unsure if they want to take the spotlight which is when Michael Biehn gets the majority of his screentime and for the most part is pretty great. Biehn’s performance overall though feels a bit uneven because sometimes his dialogue sounds very wooden and unnatural and he very rarely changes his tone of voice or delivery which just sounds really strange when he’s given more than a sentence to deliver. Milo Ventimiglia on the other hand is pretty solid throughout and once again even more so once society’s norms and boundaries are completely obliterated. Overall though the cast does a great job with their material even if at times the script isn’t quite as strong as I would have liked it to be.
Aside from just a couple of technical squabbles I had with the film, the end product is a film full of interesting ideas, great performances and rich character interactions. THE DIVIDE is a film that wants to challenge its viewer and it does just that. The film never takes the easy way out and doesn’t ever feel the need to give you any additional information than you need to process what’s happening what in front of you. There are aspects of these characters that remain a mystery but the outcome of the film doesn’t require you wonder how or why some of them make the decisions they make- in many ways the unknown is what makes some of what happens as bleak and effective as it is.
THE DIVIDE is a gritty and moody post-apocalyptic film that is surprisingly restrained in its violence despite the grim and violent nature of its central characters. The first half presents a selection of society faced with a worst case scenario while the middle and final acts explore the transition into madness to the lowest of lows when it seems like all hope is lost. While the film isn’t gratuitously violent there are moments that are pretty hard to watch. When things in THE DIVIDE start to get weird they get really weird and if in the end you DON’T feel like you need a shower then odds are I’m going to do everything I can to not end up trapped in a fallout shelter with you.
Reviewed By: Luke (@CrummyLuke on Twitter)