The Divide review
|REVIEWS - MOVIES|
"A nasty, nihilistic, confused and cynical mess"...
Most disaster movies take an unerringly long time getting to disaster. Not here. Our opening shot is several nukes raining down on Manhattan, reflected like tears in the bewildered eyes of heroine Eva (Lauren German), staring out the window of a typical tenement building. If you can momentarily forget this heralds the end of the world, then – like the ending of the otherwise pants Terminator 3 – it all looks rather beautiful; serene even.
This doesn’t last. Seconds later she’s shaken from her stupor and shoved down the steps of the building to the basement, utter chaos reigning around her. Debris cascades from the ceiling and a mad scramble begins for supposed safety. “Leave her,” goes the cry from a man, concerned his wife is attempting to help an elderly lady, and only a precious few make it below before the building’s Super, Mickey (Michael Biehn), slams shut the metal door and darkness consumes the screen. There you have it: the apocalypse before the title credits. What follows is an intensely bleak study of surviving. The film will never again be pretty – in any sense of the word.
One more thing, given the bombs feature on promotional posters and fall in the first 60 seconds, the above hardly constitutes a spoiler. But it’s hard to discuss what follows in the abstract. Consider yourself warned, as what little value the film has lies in its capacity to shock...
The basement we’re left in feels oppressive from the off. Minimal lighting, together with tight cutting from director Xavier Gens, do a good job of making the already-small space feel uncomfortably claustrophobic. That’s the last good thing I have left to say about The Divide. An intriguing opening and closing reel ultimately frame a nasty, nihilistic, confused and cynical mess.
It’s understandable that utopia does not emerge amongst the cast of ten individuals left below, but that’s no excuse for the contrived and unremittingly spiteful story we’re presented with here. The lack of all but the tinniest of hints at their lives before the fall – and inexplicable character development after it – means we simply don’t care for these people or understand their inhumanity. There’s the odd snatch of detail, such as when Eva tells Josh’s half-brother Adrien over a drink that his guitar playing on the floor above “used to help me sleep”. And we know Eva’s husband Sam was a lawyer and she had a troubled past, but not much else. Regardless, you’d think the end of the world would push them together after a rough relationship patch, but there’s scant affection at all.
The only truly memorable character is Super (ahem) Mickey, and that’s simply because he’s such a contrived, blowhard stereotype. Within minutes of the attack he’s blaming the “fucking Arabs” – it later emerges he was with the NYFD on 9/11 (I kid you not) – and slapping a man for getting hysterical. Heck, he actually chomps a cigar whilst doing so, before turning to the only child survivor and saying: “Don’t worry Wendi, I only slap little girls. And you’re a big girl.”
The other minimally memorable character is Milo Ventimiglia’s Josh, mainly because it’s so disconcerting to see that nice and inoffensive douche from Heroes graphically committing acts of rape and removing a man’s fingernails. When his hair starts to fall out, he shaves his head so he looks like a Neo-Nazi. Then he finds a Luger. Like I said, this film isn’t exactly psychologically subtle.
The same is true of its wider politics, in the sense that it has any at all. Mickey turns out to be flat wrong about the attack’s perpetrators, which might suggest an interesting subversion of America’s fears, but The Divide (despite that title) has zero to say about the world’s racial and political schisms. When we get a glimpse of the likely North Korean attackers, they’re brandishing futuristic hazmat suits, weaponry, and an E.T.-style containment tunnel. They’re also seemingly bent on acquiring body-parts and conducting Mengele-like experiments on stolen children. They bare no relation to reality.
In any case, with Wendi gone, so is any hope for the future. Her mother Liz subsequently embarks on a downward-spiral mirrored in every other character to varying extent: she loses clothes, piles on lipstick, and allows herself to be used to the point of oblivion by Josh and his psychotic, cross-dressing accomplice Bobby. The misery ratchets up inexorably until the equally disheartening denouement. It’s not so much “out of the frying pan, into the fire”, as out of the fire, into the nuclear holocaust. Still, in its final shot it at least recaptures that eerie beauty of the opening. You’re grateful to be out of that God-awful cellar, sure, but not half as grateful as you are 30 seconds later when the thing is finally finished.
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