Xavier Gens’ disturbing new vision is a visceral post-apocalyptic thriller that explores the darker side of human nature. The Divide isn’t just a thrilling survival film set against the back-drop of a nuclear holocaust; it’s a dark and disturbing look at humanity at its worst. Premiering at Austin’s SXSW film fest this week, I got a chance to check it out. Read on for my thoughts on the film.
This film begins, literally, with a bang. It starts the adrenaline pumping from the opening sequence and doesn’t let up until the ending credits role. It opens with an explosion, and through an apartment window we are treated to a view of mushroom clouds and a wall of fire. Everything spirals into chaos. Everyone in the urban apartment building is running down stairs, screaming, crying, and when another explosion demolishes the front of the building eight people make it down to the heavy basement door.
Then it begins. Paranoid apartment super Mickey (Michael Biehn) tries to hold the heavy, reinforced metal door closed against the panicked crowd, but they force their way in and the door gets closed tight behind them just as another blast shudders the building and probably destroys what’s left of it. The eight survivors rush down into a large subterranean basement-type facility that feels more like a bunker than a basement. Mickey lives down there with all the storage and the electrical units and the septic system, and finds himself suddenly having to share his space with strangers. Tensions are already high as sounds of the apocalyptic devastation filter down through the thick cement, but Mickey just makes things worse as he rants about the “towel-heads” and nuclear bombs. He warns everyone that if they open that door, and if any of the dust from outside gets in, their faces will melt off. Of course, Mickey is a little crazy, but everyone gets the gist of what he’s saying. The world is ruined, and they’re all trapped like rats.
Eva (Lauren German) and her mousy boyfriend Sam are among a diverse group including Josh (Heroes’ Milo Ventimiglia) and his brutal friend Bobby (Michael Eklund) and sensitive brother Adrien (Ashton Holmes). A mother and her young daughter have also survived, as well as a burly guy named Delvin. It seems a stroke of luck that Mickey has been living down there since he has a store of food and water, as well as access to emergency generators so they have electricity and can even watch movies. The radio gets nothing, and as the days begin ticking away a diet of canned beans grow tedious.
Once a day there are noises from the outside of the door, and what enters is the last thing any of them expect. It is a catalyst for the spiral into hell that each character faces. Soon they’re all decaying, and degenerating into the very worst of humanity. Who will survive, and what will the survivors do once they escape the prison of that sheltered basement?
This film is a brutal and intense study of the very lowest and basest of humanity. It’s a brilliant look at what desperation can turn even the most civilized man into. Gens (Hitman, Frontier(s)) is the director behind this raw horror/thriller, based on a script penned by Karl Mueller. The script is worth discussing, as the dialogue and storyline are both well-written and compelling. Apparently the story and script both went through a lot of revisions as Gens and even the actors/actresses involved worked on the characters and their motivation and shaped what was going on in their own personal hells. There’s a definite darkness to the story, but the darkness works as a vehicle for some great metaphor and character studies.
Gens gives the great script a brilliantly dark life. The film is disturbing, sometimes hard to watch, but utterly impossible to turn away from. The effects are limited to the opening scene with some obvious CGI end-of-the-world explosions, but the genius of Gens is that he takes the rest of the film, shot almost entirely in this basement, and makes it mesmerizing and frightening at the same time. Audiences were rapt at the premiere by the raw, visceral violence and the disturbing images as a group of survivors trapped together degenerated and maddened. Rotting on the inside and the outside.
Biehn (Terminator) is a scene-stealer. He’s played both sides of the fence before, in hero roles and in villain roles. What’s intriguing about the role of Mickey is that he’s a little of both, ambiguous, and keeps you off balance. He’s crazy, but crazy like a fox. There’s a lurking intelligence about him, as well as a suggested emotional tragedy/journey of his own. Rosanna Arquette plays a distraught mother with self-esteem issues, and she brings a touching vulnerability to the role of the aging beauty.
German plays the strong female lead with aplomb. She’s played the role of the siren and the model a few times in past movies, but in this role she explores the role of a strong intelligent woman. And luckily, for the film, she sells it. There’s a necessary depth to her character, and she gives it the heart to keep it from being unlikable. The boys all give noteworthy performances as well, with Eklund and Ventimiglia leading the pack with stellar performances. Their descent is visceral and palpable. The whole ensemble pleased, performance-wise, and the strength of the cast made this movie work as well as it did. The music should be mentioned as well for the character is represents, a haunting and at times terrifying backdrop to the emotional a physical brutality of the film.
If you like smart horror/thrillers that leave you breathless and thinking, you’ll love The Divide.
Be sure to check out our interview with director Xavier Gens and star Michael Biehn.