The Divide- 2012
Directed by Xavier Gens
Starring Michael Biehn, Laura German, Milo Ventimiglia, Courtney B. Vance, Iván González, Michael Eklund, Abbey Thickson, Ashton Holmes, Roseanna Arquette
Written by Karl Mueller, Eron Sheean
There are several reasons why The Divide should not work. Low budget, a cadre of B actors, and a claustrophobic atmosphere. This is a recipe for overacting. Fortunately, the direction of the film, the soundtrack and the effects are at a level that makes the film a decent couple of hours spent for those intrigued by the subject matter. The subject is nuclear Holocaust and the ensuing attempt at survival for a small group of civilians. As time marches on, ever so slowly, the players move steadily into places that one might reasonably and horribly expect for them to go. It ain’t pretty at all.
The film starts with the protagonist (Eva) viewing the blast from the window of her apartment. Almost immediately she is rushed down the stairs by her fiance (González). This is almost the last time he makes a decision. Before you can say “annihilation,” everyone is locked away from the devastation, for better or worse. The defacto leader is Mickey (Biehn), the building superintendent, who reluctantly opened up the door only after being overpowered by the number of people clamoring to get in. As a result, the group largely does not trust him. They have good reason. But then, he is right to be wary, too.
Among the survivors are a mother (Arquette) and her child, 2 punks (Ventimiglia and Eklund) and one of the punk’s brother (Holmes). Also on hand is Devlin (Vance) who immediately hits a wrong chord with Mickey. Their distrust will eventually act as a catalyst for events, but not before other, more striking occurrences behold them. That will be left for you to see and not me to describe.
Ultimately, the film starts off in a fairly intriguing way. Characters end up in a position resulting the behaviors that are definitely conceivable. There is an incident that distracts from this progression, which nonetheless does not throw things off enough to derail the film. Taking what they can from the event, we see the dynamics shift slightly at first. The people work out a routine, and look for things to do to pass the time. We learn through the eyes of Eva that there is substance to Mickey, even if he is largely a mystery.
This information is not picked up by the rest of the group, and it has consequences. By the time Mickey and Devlin inevitably square off, the sides are drawn, sadly, in the worst way. It is at this point that the film begins to lose its focus. Seeing the effects of the radiation, starkly drawn by Gens and the writers, we see everything wears down except for the primal drives of a few of the characters. The last act is blunt and without redemptive qualities for anyone but Mickey, but no matter. If you can’t tell where it is headed by this point, you haven’t been watching movies long.
The best things about the film are limited. Biehn does well with the role he is given, and German and Holmes have their moments. The rest of the cast is respectable for a film of its kind.
The soundtrack is strangely effective. Much of the film is driven by the stark piano chords of Jean-Pierre Taieb, and the mood stays with you after the credits roll.
Gens is a conscientious director, giving light to seemingly small moments that make the characters more human. This is even more remarkable when you realize the characters aren’t all that original. When one can’t easily dismiss characters, they are more likely to pay attention. He has our attention. I would like to see what he can do with better writing, or a bigger budget.
(*** out of *****)