Directed by Xavier Gens
Distributed by Anchor Bay Entertainment
How disappointing is it, to find a promising film that never manages to fully live up to its potential? You know the type – films which squander their strong casts, talented directors, and/or intriguing concepts. Films that might have amounted to something noteworthy, were it not for shoddy writing or unfocused storytelling. Unfortunately, The Divide is just such a film.
Beginning with an intense opening sequence which details a nuclear attack on a large metropolis, The Divide immediately plunges the viewer into a world of darkness and despair, as we follow a handful of survivors as they hole up in the basement/fallout shelter of their now-obliterated apartment building. Of course, even in the face of annihilation, our group can’t help but squabble over petty differences, creating a group of self-interested individuals, rather than a cohesive team that could work together to ensure everyone’s survival.
Tensions run higher and higher, until the confined space and deteriorating conditions drive some to insanity, creating a highly-volatile situation which hurtles the characters (and the viewer) to an inevitable conclusion. It’s strong stuff, to be sure, but is ultimately quite hollow, given that we have no real investment in any of the unsympathetic characters. The actors all do a fine job, but cannot overcome the shallow writing. Everyone populating the film is either mad, selfish, prone to uncharacteristic outbursts, or is simply so poorly-drawn as to be almost invisible.
Director Gens, who did quite well a few years back with the intense Frontier(s) (and not so well with the big-budget studio abortion Hitman), does a fine job at wrangling his large cast and keeping the proceedings moving at a brisk pace. Unfortunately, he is unable to overcome his slight story and unlikeable characters.
Gens’ dark, contrasty shooting style is well-represented on the film’s Blu-ray release, which does a great job at preserving the director’s deep blacks and gritty/beautiful images with razor-sharp clarity. The audio packs a punch as well, and be forewarned: those who boost the volume for some of the soft dialogue will eventually be knocked on their ass by some of the more bombastic sequences. Now, this is usually the moment where the reviewer will push the reader toward either the Blu-ray release, or the DVD. As Anchor Bay is offering this film in a Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack, this issue is moot.
Sadly, there is very little in the way of special features to illuminate what was likely a very interesting production. We get an audio commentary, and a trailer. That’s it. Funny, how releases stuffed with bonus features rarely ever include a theatrical trailer, and yet, for a bare bones release? Boom! Trailer every time, it seems.
Still, to be fair, the commentary is certainly worth a listen. Featuring Gens, and actors Michael Biehn, Michael Eklund, and Milo Ventimiglia, the commentary moves briskly, and is both informative and funny. Of particular interest is the revelation that the actors were allowed to improv quite extensively, even to the point of altering the film’s story. An example? Michael Biehn’s character Mickey was initially supposed to be the film’s main antagonist, before eventually getting sidelined midway through the film, allowing two other characters to become the villains for the final act. While improvisation no doubt allowed the actors the freedom to explore their characters and give more truthful performances on a scene-by-scene basis, one wonders if it eventually hampered the story by derailing some characters’ arcs and muddying what should have been a clearer story.
It should be noted that, for all of my criticism, I do respect the filmmakers and actors for attempting to tell a mature cautionary tale without any need for unnecessary action set pieces or juvenile comic relief. That’s all too rare these days, and should be respected even if the film doesn’t fully succeed with its aims. If you have the extra time, and prefer your horror bleaker than bleak, then you may want to give The Divide a rental, at the very least.
2 1/2 out of 5
1 out of 5