The Divide (2012)

by Stefan Pape

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"I don't like a single one of the characters, so wasn't particularly fussed whether they survived or not..."

Xavier Gens' The Divide is not the first film this year to have depicted a group of people desperately trying to survive when trapped underground in confined surroundings, following the Oscar-nominated In Darkness. Yet unlike the Polish drama, The Divide is not restricted to the boundaries of being based on a true story and instead can do as it pleases, and this dark and twisted production does just that.

Following a nuclear attack on America, several innocent pedestrians scupper to the basement of their apartment building, desperately trying to avoid the war-zone taking place outside and the radiation that would cause critical damage. The basement is however lived in by the caretaker of the building Mickey (Michael Biehn), who is somewhat frustrated at the survivors living off his ever-decreasing resources.

Joining Mickey are Eva (Lauren German) and her boyfriend Sam (Iván González) as well as brothers Adrien (Ashton Holmes) and Josh (Milo Ventimiglia). Single mother Marilyn (Rosanna Arquette) is also vying to survive, as well as fellow residents Delvin (Courtney B. Vance) and Bobby (Michael Eklund). Welded into the basement by the mysterious scientists outdoors, the group realise they are in it for the long haul and as time progresses the group begin to lose their sanity as a torturous death beckons for all.

Given the perturbing plot of The Divide, Gens has presented a picture with a very bleak atmosphere eminent throughout. Steadily getting more dark as the film progresses, it begins with no background information, as within a mere matter of minutes the group of survivors are formed and instantly fighting for their lives. As a result it's difficult to become emotionally attached to any of characters as we know so little about them, but then again I admire Gens for going straight into the action, as it could be argued that emotional attachment is irrelevant given the groups seemingly pending death.

The film improves as it progresses as the lunacy of those trapped is well depicted. Insanity seems like somewhat of a difficult task to portray in film without appearing cringe-worthy and overstated,  but the cast manage it very well. I too felt like I was going stir-crazy, as you lose all sense of time when engulfed in this film, as the confined space becomes quite claustrophobic. There is no footage of the outside world, it's literally two hours set inside a small basement apartment.

However, the only storyline running in alignment to their predicament is of there being a group of  scientists working in their apartment, evidently desperate for them not to escape - and not for their own safety either, as their one trip down into the basement is done so violently as they kidnap Marilyn's daughter and attempt to shoot the survivors. Suddenly we leave the survival story and enter science fiction, which is certainly the film's great misgiving. It's a highly superfluous sub-plot that poses many questions, and it all becomes too much to take in. Why are the men there? Who are they? And what do they want with a young girl? None of the above queries are resolved either so it really is a completely unnecessary addition.

When stuck in such a compact environment we are reliant on the performances of the leading roles to see us through the film, but it's somewhat of a mixed bag. González is disappointing as Sam and the sort-of-romance between Eva and Adrien feels ridiculous and redundant. To begin with all of the performances seem too immoderate yet as soon as the film becomes darker and they begin to lose their minds they all completely come into their element, with Biehn and Eklund standing out in that respect. Unfortunately, however, I don't like a single one of the characters, so wasn't particularly fussed whether they survived or not.

The Divide has a fascinating and provocative premise, with a wonderfully desolate atmosphere, making for a chilling film. Yet I can't help but feel that it's a brilliant concept somewhat wasted on a mediocre group of actors and filmmakers and would have blossomed had a different crew taken it on perhaps.





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