The Divide (2011)
(Originally posted here)
Reading this film's IMDb page, I saw that this was a film that people either loved or hated, with little middle ground. Those on the "loved it" side felt it to be a brilliantly bleak depiction of society breaking down, while those on the "hated it" side felt it to be needlessly nihilistic and a parade of unfortunate events with little point to them. This was echoed by the reviews I read on horror sites. Going by experience, films that have a "love it or hate it" air to them are usually either schlocky grindhouse efforts, or the kinds of movies that were "out there" in terms of content. Since this film didn't feel like the former, and knowing the director's reputation (I haven't seen Frontière(s), but if it's anything like Martyrs, which so many have compared it to...), I was ready for a grueling experience.
So two hours later, how did I feel? "Loved it, with reservations."
First, let's get the bad stuff out of the way first. The subplot with Wendi and the scientists was one of the film's weakest links. It was brought up early on that there are government(?) scientists on the outside, and that they want children for some reason. They break into the vault and kidnap Marilyn's daughter Wendi, the lone child in the group of survivors, and we find out soon after that they are subjecting her and other children to experiments of some sort. This is never brought up again. Marilyn seems to get over the loss of her daughter, the last thing she had left, in about twenty minutes. At the end of the film, without spoiling anything, you'd think that this is one of the first questions that the remaining character(s) would look to answer, yet the film ends there. The only purpose of this subplot seems to be so that the main characters can get their hands on a radiation suit, which comes into play at the end. This whole subplot was just sloppy writing.
Indeed, it's on the writing front where most of this film's problems have their root. Most of the characters are just very thinly written. We get that Josh is friends with Bobby and brothers with Adrien, that Mickey is a right-wing (former?) firefighter who has lost his wife, that Eva and Sam are a couple, and that Marilyn and Wendi are mother and daughter, but that's about as much character development as we see from most of them. The only characters who really develop over the course of the film are the villains, Josh and Bobby, who progress from normal bro-friends to psychopaths. And did the film really have to go for the "black dude dies first" cliche?
What elevated this film above its sloppy script, however, was director Xavier Gens and the performances he managed to get out of the actors. Gens has built his career exploring the dark side of humanity (and making Hitman, but let's forget that), and with The Divide he is once again on form. Even though very little of the violence is on screen, it is still unflinching and brutal (that human torch!), and the homoerotic subtext between Josh and Bobby is particularly chilling. As for the cast, you can't go wrong with Michael Biehn, even if he was out of the film for far too long, and the rest of the cast also pulls their weight. I've been a fan of Milo Ventimiglia since Heroes (remember when that show was good?), and he was on form here as one of the creeps. Lauren German manages to take her thinly written character and imbue her with a ton of life, and I was rooting for her all the way to the end. Lastly, the film's closing shot was striking in how bleak it was, in a way that few studio-produced (or should I say processed, judging by the director's experiences making Hitman) films could hope to achieve.
Score: 4 out of 5
Thanks to strong directing and acting, this film largely overcomes an uneven script to stand out in a crowded genre. It's not one of the great post-apocalyptic movies, but it's certainly one of the goodies.