I had the opportunity to sit down with The Divide’s director Xavier Gens this week during Austin’s SXSW film festival to discuss his adrenalin-pumping new post-apocalyptic thriller. Michael Biehn, who plays one of the central roles in the film, was there as well.
Xavier Gens, most well known for films like Hitman and Frontier(s), brings us his disturbing new vision which 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.
It is one of the better films that I’ve seen so far at SXSW and with Anchor Bay making a seven figure deal today to acquire the rights, you can expect it to be in theatres sometime soon. For now though, check out the interview below and see what Gens and Biehn had to say about the film. Audio version included at the end of the page.
Gens took a hands-on approach to this film, working from a script originally written by Karl Mueller and with revisions and work by Eron Sheean. Gens worked closely with the writers, making re-writes and proposing new story elements himself. “There was already a script called ‘Shelter’ that was written by Karl Mueller…they gave me the script almost two years ago during the summer, and I said ‘ok can I play with it and propose new things?’ And they said ok. And I met Eron Sheean who is a writer and he had a lot of good ideas, and we exchanged a lot of good ideas.”
This film’s brutality and simple raw emotion is what struck me the most, and that’s really what made it so impressive. It’s visceral, it’s brilliant, and according to Gens, the actors/actresses involved had a lot to do with that organic aspect of it. “After two months of re-writing in the direction I wanted to take I said ‘ok, now it’s time to find the actors and involve them in the writing process of the movie.’ Because I think it’s really important to have organic performances to get the actors to create themselves, their dialogue and their relationships in the movie…that’s the way we work in France and Europe to create the direction of the actors, and other kinds of organic feelings…to create possession so we have strong performances.”
Gens has worked in genre films before, with his 2007 Frontier(s) and Hitman.”I’ve done Frontier(s) and I did Hitman but it was one of those studio movies where I didn’t have a lot of control of the film…on The Divide I have total freedom.”
Improvisation was important to the flow of the film, as was being adaptable so changes or additions to the story could happen when they needed to. Gens mentioned “in the film there’s a dream sequence…and that scene was not written in the film in the beginning but as I saw Michael and his real-life relationship and how they were so in love and I said ‘ok, I need to get that into the film, I think that will be very strong to help humanize Mickey.’ And that’s why we wrote in the middle of the movie that dream sequence where we see his wife, and we see her in the pictures, and that back story is just something we created that day.”
In the film, Michael Biehn plays the ambiguous superintendent Mickey, whose underground world is invaded by the eight survivors. He’s not quite a protagonist, and his character has an interesting ambiguity. Though not much backstory is ever revealed about his character, some emotional tragedy/journey is suggested, particularly by a dream sequence in which he sees his dead wife. Biehn said some backstory for his character involved being “a fireman called in on 911, and I was like a line leader…”
He also spoke at length about the way Gens ran the film, allowing the actors to make story/dialogue decisions and relying a lot on a spirit of improvisation. “Really what happened on this movie is the actors were basically given free reign on what they wanted to do on this movie. I worked with Eron and we started writing and then we went up to Canada where we started doing improvisations and when Michael Eklund and Milo Ventimiglia came on, right away Michael brought it up to here (lifts hand to show the bar was raised) and what happened is like every single scene if you wanted to throw something in you could…I mean Michael’s character on paper was like nothing, and he created that whole character. Every day he would bring stuff in, ideas and thoughts, and we all did that, and the script was like this moving, always-changing animal. It would move off into this direction and that direction and the cast started breaking down and people started taking sides against each other, sort of like what happened in the movie. There were like massive fights on sets and there’s footage in that movie where they didn’t even know they were being filmed.”
He went on to say the following. “They took their characters very seriously and were very very passionate about it. They were almost method like how they would come home at night and stay in characters and be talking shit and talking about the movie and how they were going to improv the next day. And when you open that process to the actors you say ‘ok you can do whatever you want and ill put what I like in the movie,’ well and when you get a group of actors like you had in this movie…it’s like throwing red meat to a pack of lions, everyone’s fighting for their piece of the movie. I’ve never worked in any way like that before, everyone’s usually like ‘stick to the lines!’ ‘Even if they don’t make sense?’ ‘I know but stay with the lines anyway!’ because they’re afraid it’d get out of control. But it didn’t because we had great producers and they knew the tension was high.”
That concludes our talk with Gens and Biehn but we’d like to thank both of them very much for talking with us. And keep your eye on The Divide as it’s a fantastic film that is well worth seeing.
Be sure to check out our review of The Divide.