The way I see it, there are a great many hands at work that went into making any particular screen adventure. On top of the producer, director, and screenwriter, you’ve got a cast – big or small – and an incredible assortment of craftsmen and women toiling behind-the-scenes to bring something to cinematic life. Sets need to be designed and built. Costumes need to be made. Makeup must be applied. And so on and so forth. This doesn’t even begin to consider all of the folks who serve in even greater supportive capacity, answering whatever the call may be to see all of the necessary pieces are kept in motion all the way up to the point wherein it’s actually fully prepared to be released for general consumption. So, yes, a great, great, great many hands have been at work; and they’re – minimally – owed a measure of respect.
Where I am willing to draw the line, however, is when the finished product truly offers up nothing fresh, vibrant, and/or compelling to whatever genre or sub-genre the flick is a part of, and – sadly – that’s the case with The Divide, a 2011 Apocalypse/Thriller directed by Xavier Gens and scripted by Karl Mueller and Eron Sheean. Now, I can appreciate good work; and this SciFi/Fantasy displays a reasonable measure of efficiency as it goes about showing audiences what the end of life as we know it might resemble … but did it have to be so damn predictable?
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last few paragraphs for the final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
From the film’s IMDB.com page citation:
“Survivors of a nuclear attack are grouped together for days in the basement of their apartment building, where fear and dwindling supplies wear away at their dynamic.”
For the record, nobody ever suggested that surviving the nuclear apocalypse was going to be easy, but – sigh – that’s really all a film like The Divide truly says about the experience. It’s a locked box examination of characters in conflict – the kind told with mildly shifting allegiances along with a smattering of questions asked about ‘will they?’ or ‘won’t they?’ In the final estimation of Earth’s apparent demise, was everyone truly expected to get along? Or – more likely the case – would we all devolve into the selfish, harmful, and hurtful sons-of-bitches the big screen always tells us we’re going to be?
Like I said: “Sigh.”
The Divide is largely bereft of any saving graces much less the humanity that makes up a great deal of who we are culturally. Yes, yes, and yes: I get that the grim reality to the probably Fall of Man might very well bring out the beast in each of us, but couldn’t we – at the very least – expect screenwriters to give us one small measure of hope in an otherwise truly despicable landscape? Is it not enough for us to blow our big blue marble into atoms, or must we always search out and explore new and exciting ways to torture one another over food, water, and … well … love?
That’s become my big bugaboo with apocalypse dramas, namely none of them truly try to bring anything different to the bargaining table. In that respect, The Divide only further divides us, showing us a cast of characters who – in the end – will stop at nothing to survive even in the face of total annihilation. Perhaps because I’ve yet to live through one and talk about it, I just can’t quite identify with it.
Sadly, no one – not even Eva – give what happened an authentic passing thought – Mickey has his racist suspicions, as Hollywood continues to show how much they loath the working man – and very quickly The Divide descends into little more than a glorified ‘pissing match’ between some of the screen’s least interesting narcissists. Before you know it, sides are drawn up, and no rational minds are left to present the audience with anything other than the expected showdowns that grow increasingly manic and progressively bloodier.
Seriously … would Tinseltown have it any other way?
One of the greater shortcomings of The Divide is that it introduces a few good ideas that it never picks up nor does anything effective with. As the biggest example, it eventually becomes clear that some force has survived this catastrophe when a small band are space-suited and heavily-armed marauders invade the shelter for the sole task of absconding with the group’s small child: Wendi (Abbey Thickson) is snatched from her mother Marilyn’s hands (actress and activist Rosanna Arquette), and we learn she’s placed in some kind of medical incubation outside once Josh (Milo Ventimiglia) ventures outside in an attempt to rescue her. Alas, we’re told next-to-nothing about what these soldiers are attempting – granted, it might be little more than measuring radiation and/or whether or not children might be able to survive – but the ambiguity doesn’t serve the picture in the slightest. Instead of offering up a modest answer, all involved are comfortable giving viewers no rewards for the patience, and this makes for an inferior story.
But therein lies The Divide’s strength: it answers nothing nor even dabbles in anything definitive.
I suspect some might try to suggest that such a tragic personal accounting to our End Times is a great character study, but – cough cough – such an endeavor typically requires that these individuals grow or experience a kind of arc that both makes sense and completes their respective journeys. When everyone involved descends into group chaos, I find it hard to see any real ‘study’ going on. Instead, it looks like these players are defined by their willingness to be more selfish than the person next to him (or her), and – as I’ve tried to be clear – I just don’t find that compelling.
In fact, a stronger case could be made for The Divide’s rapid descent being little more than the kind of ‘torture pain’ the Horror franchise Saw became known for. The picture amps up the gruesome factor as it spools along, and there’s no voice of restraint to be found anywhere in this dank, dark dungeon in what certainly looks to be our world’s final days. The exact opposite is true, each and every time. Putting men and women through their apocryphal paces is one thing; having everyone merely jump ship on their humanity is something else.
The Divide (2011) was produced by Preferred Content, Instinctive Film, Julijette, BR Group, Ink Connection, and a few more participants. (Interested readers can find a full accounting on IMDB.com.) As for the technical specifications? While I’m no trained video expert, I thought the increasingly gloomy sights-and-sounds to this flick to be very well – and very consistent – from start-to-finish. Lastly, as for the special features? I viewed this production via a pay cable channel, so there was no extra content up for consideration.
Only mildly recommended.
Look: if you’re in the market for a dark yarn about our civilization’s last gasp, then I suppose there’s nothing wrong with The Divide (2011). It arguably never promises more than it delivers, and the cast of mostly familiar faces is definitely good enough to make for an uncomfortable pot-boiler that goes from bad-to-worse in no time flat. But because I’m the kind of guy who prefers a bit of nuance – maybe even a bloke who likes an Apocalypse with some vague hint of a silver lining – this just didn’t do all that much for me. It’s exceedingly grim, and (cough cough) clearly not a good time was had by all.