The Divide

The Divide


Reviewed by: David Graham

It's a sad day when the best you can say about a film-maker is that they should stick to videogame adaptations, but unfortunately for Xavier Gens this assessment is likely to be unanimous once The Divide gets out there. An audience divide is about the best he could hope for with this apocalyptic clunker. None of Gens' films thus far have been anything other than well-lensed pastiches - Frontier(s) shamelessly robbed from a variety of classic horror movies - but The Divide further wastes his undeniable visual flair on a sickeningly debased skeleton of a story in order to just lazily trundle out the same old cliches about man's capacity for inhumanity that we've trudged through time and again. You know you're in trouble when a film's big moment involves a character diving into a pool of excrement - a fitting metaphor for the experience of sitting through this irredeemable trash.

We open on a solitary tear running down our heroine Eva's cheek as she gazes upon a paradoxically beautiful vista of the world outside her window being blasted apart. Dragged by her boyfriend down the stairs of their apartment block, she narrowly escapes being obliterated among the throng of neighbors trying to escape, and follows a ragtag group as they narrowly scrape into the underground quarters of the building's superintendent, Mickey. With a cast iron door protecting them from what appears to be a nuclear attack, the group take stock and assess their situation. Egos and personalities clash immediately, with Mickey's hesitant 'hospitality' and attempted dominance riling some of the other men; they don't want to stay but he won't let them leave, for fear of being contaminated himself. As the hours go by, tempers flare, and the dynamics of the group's relationships are put to some harrowing tests. But it turns out they've got more to worry about than each other; a biohazard-suited intrusion is just around the corner.

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The film's strongest suit is, somewhat surprisingly, its rich vein of gallows humour. While there are many scenes that inspire unintentional mirth - some early meltdowns are edited so hyper-actively and acted so melodramatically as to completely ruin any chance the film had of being taken seriously - there are also excellently integrated moments of jet-black comedy, that briefly make you think maybe Gens does know what he's doing after all. There are also a few striking images, especially during the aforementioned opening sequence, as well as some cheekily symbolic use of the American flag. But for the most part, it's too hard to ignore the streaks of misogyny, homophobia and racism that lace the script but serve very little dramatic function. The characters' motivations are never believable (Mickey may be an asshole but it makes no sense that they turn on him so quickly, he's the only hope they have), and half-hearted attempts to flesh them out fall flat on their faces thanks to hopelessly cliched dialogue.

Michael Biehn has fun chewing up the scenery while chomping on cigars, and Courtney B Vance is well-cast as perhaps the only decent man down there, but most of their co-stars are pathetic. Lauren German is mostly impassive in the lead, her inexpressive performance defying her horror pedigree in the likes of Hostel 2 and Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning. Milo Ventimiglia is as boorish and wooden as ever in an admittedly thankless role, and Ivan Gonzales is particularly cringe-worthy as Eva's boyfriend and the gimp of the bunch. Poor Rosanna Arquette comes off the worst though, subjected to some pretty horrific treatment even when she's not having to scream her head off. Rounding out the cast are Ashton Holmes as a convincingly sensitive sibling, and Michael Eklund as the most unhinged of their motley crue; he grates initially, but ends up stealing the film from under everyone's nose with his admirable willingness to go way over the top.

While torture and gore are predictably evident, they're not quite as abundant or extreme as you might expect. More troubling are the shades of sexual abuse, Gens eventually resorting to the age-old device of rape as a preamble to violent retaliation. Most films that fall back on this lurid plot point seem to work up to it to establish an already obvious villainy, then get it out the way in order to ordain the subsequent slaying as sanctified catharsis. To its dubious credit, The Divide doesn't really employ such cheap tricks; these characters (if you can call them such) are vacant tropes to start with, so you don't need their actions to be justified and - even worse - you don't really care (other than for your own sanity) when they start savaging one another. It's just par for the course with this kind of crap, a sad inevitability that even some ambiguous-cum-pretentious third act tone-shifting can't justify.

I'd really like to be able to put Xavier Gens in the same bracket as other French nouveau-horror icons like Alexandre Aja and Pascal Laugier, but no matter how many fancy sub-Fincher camera moves he deploys he can't hold a candle to the likes of Switchblade Romance or Martyrs. The Divide is being dressed up as something we haven't seen before but if anything it's the most tired example yet of an over-subscribed-of-late genre. The theatrical limitations it sets itself are admirable, but even Beckett knew that the end times are only interesting if you're sharing them with characters you can kinda relate to. The Divide forgoes any such notion of empathy. It's content to trawl the darkest recesses of our supposed instincts for the kind of kicks that more thoughtful and thought-provoking horror fare like Territories and Red, White And Blue justify through sincere social commentary and character development. Even Uwe Boll acquires relative charm when considered in the same sentence as this self-deluded chancer.

Reviewed on: 24 Jun 2011
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A group of survivors from an unexpected attack on an apartment block hide out together, but discover they can't trust each other.
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Director: Xavier Gens

Writer: Karl Mueller, Eron Sheean

Starring: Lauren German, Milo Ventimiglia, Michael Biehn, Michael Eklund, Rosanna Arquette, Courtney B. Vance, Iván González

Year: 2011

Runtime: 112 minutes

Country: United States of America, Germany, Canada


EIFF 2011

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