I love the kinds of stories that are possible with a post-apocalyptic setting. It’s just one of those places where you can have literally any sort of story within the confines and tropes of the setting. You can have a comedy, a family drama, a western, and almost anything in-between. There are so many rich themes and possibilities of storytelling, so it’s really easy to understand the allure of these films, showing the true human nature after all the trappings of modern life are violently wrenched away. It’s a dark mirror, held up to make us question how we would be without everything we take for granted.
Then there’s The Divide, a jumbled mess of a film that takes a perverse glee in being as absolutely dark and depraved as possible. This isn’t a Human Centipede 2-level of s**t, since there’s no graphic butthole stapling, but it’s already destined to be on a number of the “worst of 2012” lists.
Director: Xavier Gans
Release date: January 14, 2012(limited)
The best part of The Divide happens right at the beginning. Following a sudden and blessedly-unexplained nuclear attack, a small group of people manage to find shelter in the basement of their apartment building, which superintendent Mickey (Michael Biehn) has converted into a bomb shelter, as he’s just about the picture of the paranoid, jingoistic American. The survivors, on very little food or clean water, are stuck in the basement, for fear of radiation poisoning on the surface. Psyches slowly disintegrate as people get hungrier and more desperate.
I mentioned that the best part of the film comes at the very beginning, and it manages to be the only legitimately effective part of the film, as it doesn’t rely on shock imagery and the “Jesus, are they really doing that?” factor. It’s pure, simple chaos. People are screaming and scrambling to figure out what’s happening as mushroom clouds loom outside. Almost nothing is clearly audible over bomb sirens and the screams and the thunder of footsteps. The door to the basement is slammed shut on a large crowd of people, who thump uselessly against the door until their desperate banging just…stops. It’s chilling and sets the stage beautifully for a film that will pull no punches, and it’s over in mere moments. Then the rest of the film happens.
The Divide manages to be exceptionally dull all while presenting some of the most disturbing imagery I’ve seen in a film that doesn’t involve amateur surgery. Apart from a gritty, grimy aesthetic that fits the subject matter terribly well and a general idea that “after the apocalypse, people are going to be even bigger shits to one another,” there’s not a lot that The Divide does right. You’ll notice I didn’t really mention the characters while I was summing up the film’s plot. There are other people in the film than Michael Biehn, to be sure, but they’re, to a one, so forgettable and badly-drawn that I’m at a loss to tell you much of anything about them. I can tell you that protagonist Eva (Lauren German) is the natural protagonist because she doesn’t actively inspire loathing and disgust in every frame she inhabits. I can tell you Josh and Bobby (Milo Ventimiglia and Michael Eklund) essentially go from dickish to rapist-psycho basically at the drop of a hat, and I can tell you I really don’t know any important details about anyone’s life. Oh wait, Michael Biehn’s character was a fire fighter on 9-11. So that explains him.
The film’s got no sense of pacing, as well. After that sensational opening, things meander along for about an hour and a half. Don’t get me wrong, though. This isn’t a Sean Penn in the desert-level of meandering. People get their teeth ripped out, and people turn into rapists and wear dresses, but it all happens at such slow, uninteresting speeds. In a similar vein, the movie has no sense of time, as well. These people are obviously stuck in their basement for some time, but it could be anything from two weeks to months, and I wouldn’t be able to tell you. All of a sudden, people start getting red bags around their eyes. Does that mean it’s been more than a day now? I don’t even know.
The Divide desperately wants to be called things like “uncompromising” and “challenging,” but it’s really no different from the same shitty comic books that throw in rape and violent death for shock value. It’s shlock with little redeeming value.