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Rick McGrath [Film Festival 10.28.11] post apocalyptic movie review

Year: 2010
Directors: Xavier Gens
Writers: Karl Mueller / Eron Sheean
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: Rick McGrath
Rating: 6 out of 10

One suspects audiences for The Divide will also be divided between those who simply enjoy watching people act like animals, and those who have to wonder why they’re sitting through this oddly-plotted, cliché-ridden, pseudo-post-apocalyptic mess.

The premise of The Divide is great; the execution simply silly. Briefly, our story involves a group of apartment dwellers who escape a nuclear holocaust over New York by hiding out in the basement with the building’s supervisor, Mickey. It’s a great opening sequence, but short-lived. Once our cellarfull of psychotics have even the first opportunity to start grinding on each other, they do. Quelle surprise, but that’s what the movie’s about anyway. The friction begins when Mickey, an ex-9/11 fireman who’s fallen on hard times – he lives alone in his basement mini-bunker -- stupidly extends his supervisory role when there’s no building left to care for and starts bossing the other survivors around. Not a good idea when he’s surrounded by hormone-laden young jocks. After sealing off the door with duct tape to keep the radiation out and waiting for a few days glumly eating beans while everyone argues about how dangerous it is outside, our creepy cast finally hear activity outside the door. We’re saved, they think, but when the door opens things go wonky with the plot. Rather than rescue workers, they’re confronted by soldiers in hi-tek bio-suits and equally hi-tek guns, which look like they can do lots of interesting damage, but basically they just shoot. The soldiers move in and take away the only child in the group (no doubt to save her from the grisly future ahead), but not before two are overpowered and killed by the cellar people.

The soldiers retreat, the door is again sealed. Now what? Overcome with curiosity, one of the gang dresses in the bio suit and opens the door. He’s confronted with a tunnel made of plastic that stretches away to the distance. Huh? The door to the basement was in the lower levels of a huge building. Now it’s at street level? No matter. He follows it and comes to a plastic sheeted tent where similar bio-suited men seem to be doing odd little experimental things and kids are being stored in liquid-filled glass tubes. He’s caught out, but manages to fight his way back to the building. Soon after what or whoever is outside decides to weld their door shut. Nothing more of these soldiers is ever seen or heard from again. Nor does anyone attempt to break out, even though they have an axe, machine guns and other implements of escape. Sloppy. In hindsight it may be these soldiers show up only to (a) remove the kid, cause things are gonna get nasty, and to (b) drop off a gun and a bio-suit, both of which are necessary to the main plotline of man getting really inhumane with man.

Unfortunately, writers Karl Mueller and Eron Sheean manage to display a complete lack of imagination in their quest to explore the dark psychopathology of the uncivil, and director Xavier Gens makes things worse by whipping some of his actors into wildly over-the-top performances. Needless to say, we witness a surprisingly fast descent into the usual clichés of instinctual humanity: physical violence, sexual dominance and humiliation, intimidation – all the usual human darkness that invariably takes over when the veneer of civilization is ripped away like a stage set. The basic story is as old as taboos – the father figure is overthrown by unruly sons, and the tribe pays the price as penance. Against this bleakness of lizard brain activities, which stretches on and on into even more berserk, if predictable, behavior, it’s no wonder the gung-ho audience at the Toronto After Dark Canadian premiere finally came alive when the retribution scenes finally arrived.

I think another problem with The Divide is the character of Eva, erstwhile girlfriend of the gutless Sam, who fulfills a kind of Ripley role without actually doing anything for most of the movie. I suppose she’s the sort of bulwark of civilization the audience ultimately associates with – the rest of the crew are not even remotely empathic – but she seems unable to muster much more enthusiasm than an exasperated mother with an unruly brood. Unfortunately there’s no coming home father to wait for. Eva does precipitate the final act of the movie, and is questionably rewarded for her brief act of bravery and unpleasant plan to save herself, but for the most part she’s less interesting than the corridor-laden set.

The acting is also generally goofy, as these cats react to their situation with unsubstantiated melodrama. Michael Biehn wildly overplays Mickey, the little man with sudden power who thinks he’s a tough guy – he chain-smokes two-inch long cigars, á la Clint Eastwood – but who also is an untrustworthy bastard out for himself. Ashton Holmes doesn’t have much to do as the bullet-ridden Adrein, save grimace, and Courtney B. Vance is OK as the suspicious but slightly-too-clever Delvin. Iván Gonzáles in fine as the twitchy, incompetent coward Sam, although he also manages to go emotionally overboard at the slightest gale. Lauren German underperforms her role as Eva, the witness, which makes her a sort of useless character, but Rosanna Arquette gets to go completely crazy, first as a sickeningly overprotective mom, then a devastated mom, then camp whore for the two zaniest characters, our leaders of the pack, Josh and Bobby, madly camped up by Milo Ventimigli and Michael Eklund. Wild boys from the first frame, they pose and bluster in your face at every opportunity. Sure, they’re brutal and we assume, sexually deviant, but they’re also pretty stupid in an all-I-want-to-do-is-intimidate-you way. What’s the plan? Beat these few guys up and screw the women til we all starve or die of radiation poisoning? It’s amazing their reign of the usual terrors lasts as long as it does.

The Divide. No doubt there will be a divide of opinion over this loud and loose flick – the soundtrack is often called upon to add virtually all the suspense – but this little basement of hackneyed horrors is going to stay dank and dark in concept and execution. Moral: stay in your apartment and go with the blast. Actually, if you were smart you won’t even live in a building with such idiot neighbors.

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j.j. (10 years ago) Reply

The reason those guys in Hazmat suits were taking children is linked in with who was behind the bombings. Unfortunately I cannot say as I don't want to cause a spolier alert.


rek (10 years ago) Reply

"Nor does anyone attempt to break out, even though they have an axe, machine guns and other implements of escape. Sloppy."

Not true. Post-welding, there's a line addressing this – one of them says something like "we should have tried harder on the door" and there are visible axe marks on the door.

There are some problems with the plot, but you don't need to invent new ones. A lot more could have been done to mark the passage of time (I only recall one mention), which would have made their decent into barbarism a bit more believable. How Eva escaped Marilyn's fate for so long, and what the hell Adrien was doing the whole time he wasn't lingering in the doorway saying "hey" were problems I had with the script. And I don't want to spoil the ending, so I can't talk about that.

I found it tense and grotesque, like BLINDNESS in miniature. Some well-trod territory, true, but PA is 98% cliché as it is.


rickmcgrath (10 years ago) Reply

rek: my comment was rhetorical... If the axe could make marks on the door, why didn't they keep at it? answer: because what goes on outside the basement playpen is counter-productive to the plot, which is 98% dedicated to revisiting some ultraviolence and the appropriate repercussions.

J.J. -- sorry, I missed the line about who was behind the bombings... I thought Mickey thought is was Arabs, but that was because he was a 9/11 survivor... given the overall story, it really doesn't matter


j.j. (10 years ago) Reply

When you see who is behind the bombings you will see it relates directly to the guys in the hazmat suits. Here's a clue: fabian society - reshaping the world. That is what I found so scary about this film.


Wootwor (10 years ago) Reply

This movie was below average in my book. To start off, I knew the movie was going to suck from the first scene. They have Eva staring at a nuke blast without any side effects. Second, the bio suit scene peaked my interest, as the tunnels that were constructed in a place that where they couldn't exist before the blasts. Then they drop it... never to be seen again. Very lame.

Then there was about 30 mins of movie not necessary, not to mention just sloppiness when it comes to handling the radiation leakage and effects. Add to that lame guns and discount props (e.g. the lame bio suits), and you have one boring film. Then the end, where she is walking through a completely devastated city with a bag of baked beans with no tie back to what actually happened and the no-eyebrow white suit guys just made me wonder why I wasted 2 hours.

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