A tough and intense post-apocalyptic thriller, The Divide is both thought-provoking and arresting
Opening with a grim vision of New York suffering a nuclear attack, Xavier Gens’ post-apocalyptic thriller sees a group of residents from an apartment block hurry down to a makeshift survival bunker in the basement to shelter from the devastation and await rescue. As the days become weeks, the group begins to fracture, with the strong dominating the weak and a feral pseudo-society forming within the confines of their three-room underground world.
The first thing to be said about The Divide is that the remarkable ensemble cast have much to be proud of. With a confined location such as this, the characters are what must drive the story, and the actors here take a group of initially thinly-sketched archetypes (The doting mother, the tough punks, the civilised intellectual, etc.) and flesh them out into truly three-dimensional people. Hawaii Five-0’s Lauren German does a solid job in a thanklessly bland lead role, forming a decent anchor for flashier performances to dominate from. Cult icon Michael Biehn is Mickey, the paranoid super who built the shelter, and is typically charismatic, while Heroes’ Milo Ventimiglia undergoes a heck of an arc as the brash and cocky Josh. Rosanna Arquette manages a heartbreaking turn as an emotionally damaged mother despite having hardly any dialogue, and Michael Eklund turns in a seriously unsettling performance as an unhinged young tough.
The way these characters arc over the two hour runtime is impressive, and the result of an unorthodox production – shot in sequence, the script was changed frequently with input from the cast, resulting in a level of immersion which facilitates some heavy impact from the films building intensity. The paranoia is intensified by the enclosed setting, as we begin to feel as closed in as the characters do, and it is difficult not to get drawn into the events which occur.
As cracks begin to show in the sanity of various characters, The Divide begins to show a nasty, nihilistic side. Having invested much in these people, the film becomes very hard to watch as they devolve into Lord of the Flies style anarchy. This rather negative look at human nature will not be to the tastes of every viewer, but it can’t be denied how arresting it is when played out on screen.
One or two weaknesses do rear their heads, with the realism undermined by a few glaring plot holes as the story progresses – at one point the actual physical geography of the setting seems to change with little explanation – and the “less is more” approach to storytelling will frustrate. It is a total matter of preference, but the ground-level filmmaking on display here can either delight or irritate, just look at Cloverfield for another example. The hints at what go on in the world beyond the bunker are fascinating, and lend themselves to further speculation, but what we do see is so intriguing that audiences will possibly find this a tease too far.
The obvious flaw with The Divide is that it won’t appeal to some viewers, due to the sheer nastiness on display. For those willing to take a look at this intense examination of the dark side of humanity, however, it is a memorable and tough watch, which will take some serious getting over. Propelled by a fantastic cast, The Divide is a melancholy and thought-provoking film which may just prove to be too intense for its own good.