There is a bright light and an explosion outside. Residents of a New York City apartment are screaming and racing down the stairs in an attempt to find refuge from the unknown chaos occurring around them. Being pushed by the panicking horde, a group of survivors find themselves stuffed and then secured in the basement of their apartment building with the Superintendent of the building. Fearing a nuclear attack, it is within the best option of the group to stay secure in the basement. But food, water and the insanity of being cooped up with an assembly of sundry characters will lead the survivors down a path where their survival from each other is far more complex than any of the elements that may await them outside.
Such is the synopsis for the new film, The Divide, a wonderful roller-coaster ride that melds the social paranoia of John Carpenter’s The Thing with some of the emotional elements of TV’s Jericho.
Michael Biehn headlines the film as Mickey – the Superintendent that is an enigma wrapped tightly in a riddle. Mickey is definitely the one asserting command early, but his intentions and feelings towards the group are perplexing. He feeds the troupe, but he won’t let them in his room. He is insulting and vile, yet his actions seem to be in the best interests for their survival.
Locked down in the basement with Mickey are Marilyn (Rosanne Arquette) and her daughter Wendy, Devlin (Courtney B. Vance), wimpy Sam (Iván González) and girlfriend Eva (Lauren German), half-brothers Josh and Bobby (Milo Ventimiglia and Michael Eklund) and Adrien (Ashton Holmes).
Confusion leads to anger and eventually violent confrontations as the most diverse group that puts TV’s Survivor collection to woeful shame. The expected arguments first arise over food, water and the lack of facilities (you know….le toilette). But things take the first of many fascinating and unexpected turns when gunned soldiers enter the room and forcefully take one of the survivors away. Their purpose and intention are never fully explained (and Bravo for that) and it became clear very early in The Divide that some of the fill-in-the-blank questions might just be answered with more fill-in-the-blank questions.
Director Xavier Gens (Hitman, Frontiers) does a masterful job of keeping the story progressing down a path that will not be foreseen by most audiences. We don’t learn why the city was attacked or by whom, we don’t know what was to become of the extracted survivor and the ending is as bleak as it is open-ended.
Most of the characters in The Divide are well rounded and Biehn shines as the no-nonsense hardass. Every character will go through a transformation in the film – some which are easier to swallow than others.
We had some troubles with The Divide. Rosanna Arquette’s transformation didn’t seem right and Bobby and Josh go all Doomsday on us which kinda didn’t fit in the timeframe that we had running in our heads (the total time spent in the basement is unknown, but since they still had cigarettes to smoke towards the end of the film, we would suggest that 3 – 5 days might have been the extent of their travails).
And at only 100 minutes we could easily have cut 10 minutes out of the print to make a tighter and better paced film. Particularly the ending which plays only with a piano themed score which seemed to go on and on and on.
But enough of the negatives. We really, really liked The Divide. The acting was perfect. The casting therefore was perfect. The emotional and physical transformations were terrifying and we found ourselves changes allegiances more than a couple of times through the film.
As things progress, situations become more and more violent which seemed to spark the already energized audience into outbursts of glorious appraisal.
We also have to give kudos to the production crew that were able to make the setting (the basement) almost a character unto itself. The basement is drab, dirty and there is little, if any, light. Yet it had a personality and a claustrophobia to it not unlike the Nostromo in Ridley Scott’s Alien.
The Divide screened at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival in 2011 and is set for release in early 2012. Speaking to audience members after the screening, I think I can put an endorsement in without reservation and encourage all fans to do their best to hunt it down.