The Divide (2011)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #190

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Number of Views: One
Release Date: 20 April 2012 (UK)
Sub-Genre: Apocalyptic Thriller
Country of Origin: Germany/USA/Canada
Budget: $3,000,000
Running Time: 112 minutes
Director: Xavier Gens
Producers: Ross M. Dinerstein, Juliette Hagopian, Nathaniel Rollo , Darryn Welch
Screenplay: Karl Mueller, Eron Sheean
Special Effects: Brant McIlroy, Martin Testa
Visual Effects: Darren Wall, Rodolphe Guglielmi (BR Films), Laurens Ehrmann (PLUG)
Cinematography: Laurent Barès
Score: Jean-Pierre Taieb
Editing: Carlo Rizzo
Studios: Instinctive Film, Preferred Content, BR Group, Julijette, Ink Connection
Distributor: Anchor Bay Entertainment, Momentum Pictures Home Entertainment
Stars: Lauren German, Michael Biehn, Milo Ventimiglia, Courtney B. Vance, Ashton Holmes, Rosanna Arquette, Iván González, Michael Eklund, Abbey Thickson, Jennifer Blanc

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Suggested Audio Ration

Jean-Pierre Taieb “Running After My Fate”

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Have you ever wondered what you would do in the case of an apocalypse? If a cataclysmic nuclear explosion ruptured above you wiping out the entire population and you were holed up alongside those with integrity more than questionable, how would you react? Xavier Gens’ latest The Divide pitches us a suchlike conundrum. It is a bleak film, make no bones, and shows humanity at its least hinged and most desperate. Much like George A. Romero’s Day of the Dead three decades back, it poses the question “is mankind really worth saving?” and on this evidence I have severe doubts.

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It centers on eight relative strangers who take refuge in an apartment sub-basement which doubles as a makeshift fallout shelter. It is owned by the building’s super Mickey, an ex-firefighter who was directly affected by 9/11 and has been preparing for the worst ever since. Horror aficionados can rejoice as Michael Biehn takes the reigns, giving a suitably grizzled turn as the bitter ringleader and manages to evoke our empathy through flashes of the life he had taken from him after the terrorists’ strike. His walls are littered with news clippings and photos taken before everything quick changed and it is clear that his faith in humanity is dwindling fast.

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Now Mickey ain’t the most selective fella and this is proved by the company he keeps. Among the cosmopolitan brigade of survivors sharing his crawlspace are Josh (Milo Ventimiglia) and Bobby (Michael Eklund), two shoe-ins for cabin fever if ever I saw them. The pair become increasingly nihilistic as events unfurl and with it the balance of power takes a rather generous swing. Caught up in the ensuing chaos are Josh’s brother Adrien (Ashton Holmes), Eva (Lauren German from Hostel Part II) and her boyfriend Sam (Iván González), Marilyn (the ever brilliant Rosanna Arquette) and her daughter Wendi (Abbey Thickson) and Delvin (Courtney B. Vance). They all take sanctuary and the entire film plays out inside their impenetrable fortress.

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Anyone searching for nobleman will be found wanting as The Divide pits all manner of reprobates together as they fight for supplies and slowly lose their minds. After Wendi is captured by hazmat wearing door-to-door salesman she loses the last remaining shred of her dignity and becomes Josh and Bobby’s personal plaything. Adrien becomes increasingly disconnected from his kindred and Delvin just gets too darned curious. While all this is transpiring we get to see primarily through Eva’s eyes and German gives another exemplary example of herself as the real dark horse in the paddock. She stays as far from conflict as possible and, instead, takes it all in and quietly percolates. Most of the acting comes courtesy of her resplendent peepers which tell the story without constant need for dialogue.

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Speaking of chewing the fat, the exchanges between each of the survivors are well written and played, although those of a sensitive disposition may be unsettled by the amount of cussing. In my opinion it is entirely warranted as this ain’t no coffee morning we’re talking of. This is a mismatched group of largely unpleasant protagonists and they simply act accordingly. What starts with a touch of ration-bickering steadily declines into acts of debauchery and torture. Anyone familiar with Gens’ Frontier(s) will be aware that this is a department where he has first-hand experiences but he exercises restraint, in the interest of giving the film a farther-reaching appeal. That’s not to say it’s not depraved, just not intent on glorifying this group’s actions.

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The scope is broadened somewhat with the inclusion of a contingent of armed men in bio-hazard suits but this is fleeting. Instead, The Divide remains insular and grungy and its Nietzschean focus on power sucks the hope straight out of the scenario. This isn’t a movie to make you feel all warm and fuzzy, it shows mankind at its most barbaric and offers no chirpy resolution. Ultimately it is that which kept it out of the multiplexes but Gens sticking to his guns, especially given that his studio debut Hitman faltered, is admirable and the social message is strong, if not altogether hopeful. For the record, the score by Jean-Pierre Taieb is simply outstanding.

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A piece like this lives and dies by its protagonists and thankfully the cast all pitch in. Ventimiglia and Eckland are both superb and German is far more than capable in the leading role. Arquette only needs to smile seductively once and I’m cum-putty but it’s Biehn who gives the greatest cause for fists aloft. He has been gone for far too long, while still working, his appearances have been fleeting but his role as Mickey gives him cigars to chomp, scenery to chew and plenty of gristle to sink his teeth into. His real-life partner Jennifer Blanc makes an appearance as his dead wife Liz in the photos FYI. Welcome back Mike.

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Whether or not The Divide will be for you depends largely on whether you wish to watch a film or a movie. If it’s the latter you desire then you will be left very much wanting. If however you wish to watch a group of otherwise rational people pushed beyond the point of reason, then it makes for a fascinating social insight. As mentioned, resolution isn’t neatly packaged and the origins of the nuclear strike are totally superfluous to proceedings. Gens’ impressive effort looks at the breaking down of frail human psyches and the base impulse which causes people to do what they do. In that respect, it succeeds.

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Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10

Grue Factor: 3/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers: Considering this is a Xavier Gens film one could feel a little short-changed by the slender servings of grue. There is sickness but it is kept on the chain at all times, never distracting the focus.

Read Hostel Part II Appraisal

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Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

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