The Divide DVD Review
Directed by Xavier Gens
Written by Karl Mueller, Eron Sheean
2011, Region 2 (PAL), 112 minutes, Rated 18 (UK)
DVD released on 14th May 2012
Lauren German as Eva
Michael Biehn as Mickey
Milo Ventimiglia as Josh
Courtney B. Vance as Delvin
Ashton Holmes as Adrien
Rosanna Arquette as Marilyn
Following a series of nuclear explosions in the middle of New York, eight terrified civilians flee to the bomb shelter of their apartment. They must contend with not only their own fear and claustrophobia but with radiation sickness and a spectacularly grumpy Michael Biehn too. Of all the people to be trapped in a miserable basement with, moody Michael Biehn should be amongst the worst. And yet somehow, the scrawny pretty boy from Heroes manages to be even worse.
At first, The Divide looks to be yet another dull no-budget horror movie in which unsympathetic characters bicker in a confined space before turning on one another. It opens in a manner that does not suggest the incredible horror to come, with everyone shouting at one other and Michael Biehn threatening a small child. None of the characters stand out: even Biehn seems to be playing it safe as a delusional, menacing paranoiac. In cutting straight to the basement, there's no time to get to know the characters before horror is thrust upon them — so it's inevitable that few of them are very likeable. In the face of such cliché, I had even questioned my ability to watch the thing the whole way through. And then, as the HAZMAT team enter the basement, it becomes something quite different. Where did Michael Biehn get that enormous gun from, anyway?
As the opening credits play (following a very pretty opening sequence that wouldn't look out of place in a Transformers movie), Terminator star Michael Biehn's name is the only one to stand out. There are a number of other recognisable names — chiefly Hostel II escapee Lauren German and Milo Ventimiglia but no-one you'd associate with great horror cinema. Biehn is reliably good, but the film's real star comes in the unlikeliest place. I didn't expect Milo Ventimiglia to do anything other than look hunky in the background, and yet he becomes the film's breakout star. His performance is revelatory. Lauren German is sympathetic (if dull) as the only sensible person in the basement. Meanwhile, Michael Eklund looks distractingly like Ethan Hawke and is entertaining as the shelter's most disturbed, loosest cannon. It's very well acted by all, particularly during the more difficult scenes. “It's like Hiroshima,” Gens reportedly told one of his actors, “inside you.” Deep.
To those not expecting real horror, The Divide will come as a shock. For while there is quite a lot of unsympathetic arguing going on, but in the hands of Frontier(s) director Xavier Gens, The Divide transcends its bickering to become something that feels genuinely apocalyptic, terrifying and unpredictable. It's like [REC] combined with Where The Wind Blows. It's like The Road without that film's sense of hope — the misery is utterly unrelenting. On the basis of this nuclear narrative, it would seem that Hitman was the wrong videogame for Xavier Gens to have been let loose on: Fallout would have been far more appropriate. The director has certainly reclaimed his verve here.
There's some of the torture that made Gens' Frontier(s) so hard to watch, but mostly the emphasis is on psychological horror and grotty physical degradation. The first thing I did as the film finished was take a shower. And then made sure my bomb shelter was well stocked and free of Michael Biehn infestation.
The Divide is grim, disturbing and depressing — I found it to be powerful, compelling and scary. The real divide will be between those who view it as art and those who dismiss it as cynical bit of miserable torture fluff.
Video and Audio:
It looks dark and dirty in the underground scenes and suitably fantastic in the few to take place above ground. The music is very atmospheric and really adds to the sense of misery and horror. It’s at its best during the explosive climax.
A behind the scenes featurette is insightful and interesting. Ventimiglia is thoughtfully open regarding his approach to his character and the casting process. There's even room for a rubbish impression of Xavier Gens' French accent. All aspects of the film making process are covered here, including a fun bit in which the actors speculate on which items they'd take into a bomb shelter with them. “Not my wife” is the most popular answer.