Thursday, March 29, 2012
Despite Reception, The Divide is Worth Your While
Post-apocalyptic dystopian fiction is en vogue these days: if it's not zombies ravaging America's heartland, it's nuclear annihilation, meteorite bombardment, or even an errant planet crashing into ours. One senses the zeitgeist is a sort of vengeful collective urge to just tear down everything - either out of utter frustration with the status quo, or in hopes of building something better.
When a bleak fantasy like Cormac McCarthy's The Road ascends to the top of the NY Times bestsellers, it's indicative of more than just a passing phase; and then there's the long list of video games like Bethesda Softworks' brilliant Fallout 3, which sold well over 5 million units, despite being initially banned in Australia for its drug references.
Of course, this fascination with the bleak is hardly new; even prehistoric Mesopotamians and Egyptians reveled in stories of the vengeful fury of the gods. But as life begins to fulfill some of the darker predictions of Aldous Huxley, George Orwell and Ray Bradbury, and as the world's haves and have-nots glare in mutual hatred across the growing chasm of economic disparity, one can almost hear a low, feral growl of discontent and barely suppressed rage on the street: human beings, we all too frequently forget, are but one more among the animal species, and apex predators at that.
The Divide, by French ultraviolence auteur Xavier Gens (Frontiers, The Horde, Hitman, etc.) drives that point home with shocking force.
As nuclear destruction rains down upon Manhattan, a disparate group of urbanites are forced to shelter in their building's basement for agonizing weeks while their supplies and hopes dwindle.
The building's superintendent is crusty survivalist Mickey - convincingly portrayed by Michael Biehn, best known for his role as John Connor from The Terminator. Mickey's something of a weasel, but he's crafty, and he's prepared an amply-stocked fallout shelter in advance of the terrorist strike that culminates in a rain of dirty bombs on New York City. He's reluctantly forced to take in eight other survivors who batter their way into his shelter during the post-blast mob panic.
Mickey's an unapologetic bastard, and his hard edge wins him the enmity of everyone he's begrudgingly hosting, as the survivors begin to turn upon one another and fight for dominance like overcrowded rats in a cage. The social dynamic is reminiscent of William Golding's Lord of the Flies: as hope and humanity begin to crumble, the group's inner savagery is gradually exposed.
The situation explodes with the discovery that their reluctant host has been secretly hiding a large food stash. Stunning cruelty and betrayal after betrayal then compound upon one another until the shocking conclusion.
Although slightly marred by a superfluous kidnapping scene, the plot's generally exciting, dodges cliches, and the cast drives it forward with admirable skill. Perhaps Mickey's the easiest character with whom one can sympathize, although each manages to sink to reprehensible lows at some point in the story. Perhaps this is why the movie maintains interest - there's a compelling ambiguity - none of the characters are snowy white nor purely evil.
Throughout the story, Lauren German's wickedly lovely eyes convey a fetching, stunned naivete as her main character Eva (a derivative of "Eve" - inheritor of a new world?) witnesses the increasingly Hellish events unfold.
Milo Ventimiglia (who also plays Peter Petrelli in the television series Heroes) and Michael Eklund (narcotics detective Rene Dejardins in CBC's Intelligence) are chillingly convincing as a pair of goons who grow increasingly brutal and amoral when fear and radiation sickness erode their sanity. But Rosanna Arquette's break with reality provides some of the most horrific moments.
Acclaimed French cinematographer Laurent Barès, who teamed up with Gens to produce Frontiers, Hitman, À l'intérieur and La Horde, adds his signature style, delivering a masterful interplay of shadow and light.
Unfortunately, for all its merits, the Divide bombed spectacularly in theaters, generating a stunningly awful return of only $18,000 its opening week before being relegated to DVD purgatory. That's a shame, as this is clearly a superior shocker, deserving of greater recognition within the genre. While it doesn't break any new ground, it certainly delivers on its promise, with memorably shocking and chilling moments viewers aren't likely to forget.
Were it not for the aforementioned plot hole, this film would earn higher marks, but as it stands, I still rate it at 7.5 out of ten, and would definitely recommend it to friends for a scary movie night.
The Divide (Thriller, 2011, 110 min.)
Directed by Xavier Gens; written by Karl Mueller, Eron Sheean; starring Lauren German, Michael Biehn, Milo Ventimiglia, Courtney B. Vance, and Rosanna Arquette
Free Money, Patti Smith, 1975