Post-apocalyptic films always seem to stir the emotions and pique the interest of audiences. The small-scale The Divide is no different, and has a pretty chilling opening to boot: a nuclear bomb drops on New York City with crowds of people in a one building running down towards the basement, only to see the door slam shut on most of them.
Once the dust settles, the small merry band stuck together take form; Mickey (Michael Biehn), the janitor of the building, a couple Eva (Lauren German) and Sam, two brothers Adrien and Josh (TV Heroes‘ Milo Ventimiglia), their friend Bobby (Michael Eklund), a mother Marilyn (Rosanna Arquette) and her young daughter, and lastly, cannon-fodder resident Delvin. A typical varied group, as one would expect from an ensemble piece.
From this point, it is not clear what’s happened or who was responsible for the bombing. In any case, the focus is not really about the why’s, although it does touch on the subject with the appearance of unexplained men in white suits. They subsequently seal the group in after taking Marilyn’s young daughter and a few of them are brutally killed by the group.
This pivotal moment quickens the already growing animosity between members. With tensions rising, food and water running low and no way of getting out, it ultimately leads them into confrontation, violence whilst carrying out unimaginable actions on each other.
Even though the plot may not be to everyone’s liking, the film itself is quite polished; the set, special effects and semi-famous cast are at least decent. The always-dependable Michael Biehn acts admirably as the suspicious janitor, as does the other old head in the cast, Rosanna Arquette. The real standout though is Michael Eklund as Bobby, who provides an unsettling performance while growing into his role as the main antagonist.
There were reports of actual divisions on set and the hostility shows in certain scenes. Whenever film transcends to real-life (whether its romance or, in this case, hatred) it always brings a certain believability to the situation. Unfortunately you just don’t get to the heart of the characters enough for it to be plausible that this is how they would turn out. Mickey is the only one who really gets a backstory, and it’s him you feel for at the end. The rest are just standard good, evil, or just plain stupid characters, and that is a shame because more could have been done with them other than subjecting them to violence and torture.
The potential was certainly there to build a character-based story, particularly with its small setting and cast. Instead it goes down the shock-value route to move the story along. There’s a touch of Fernando Meirelles‘ Blindness here which deals with similar themes. Like that, the negativity of society breaking down is not one which can be easily viewed and people will find this disturbing.
The Divide suffers from a case of a missed opportunity and it takes itself far too seriously considering that it is basically a straight-up horror with no underlying message. Although it’s competently directed, one should not be surprised of its lack of depth considering it is directed by Xavier Gens (respobsible for the awful Hitman and equally bloody Frontier(s)).
It does appear to want to appease the gore-hungry masses, and there’s no doubt it succeeds. Just be prepared to come away feeling like your eyes need cleansing – certain scenes are distasteful to say the least – and opinions regarding the The Divide reflects its title and does just that.
Best scene: The opening sequence of a woman inside a building watching (albeit scientifically impossible) a nuclear bomb hit NYC. With sirens blaring, people are rushing towards the basement until the door shuts by Mickey. The electricity in the basement flickers and he is standing nonchalantly chomping on a cigar in the middle of the room surrounded by the other people cowering, finally ending with dust falling on him.