... While this newest foray into soul-crushing cynicism isn't without its faults, it's nonetheless an emotionally draining experience of the best kind; one that can't easily be shaken or forgotten...
Beginning with a literal bang, THE DIVIDE spared nothing in getting to the meat of the story. After Manhattan falls victim to a collection of nukes, a group of survivors attempt to holdout within the confines of a fallout shelter which is later sealed by a mysterious group of rifle-bearing hazmats. With supplies fading and loyalties waning, those alive become ticking time-bombs of depravity; turning on each other at the drop of a hat. To put it bluntly, THE DIVIDE is a present day version of LORD OF THE FLIES--if it were all condensed to a single location and had its intensity ratcheted up to eleven. This is a parable on man's inevitable inhumanity to man, and boy does it ever get that inhumanity element down-pat.
While most would associate director Xavier Gens with that of the violently-entertaining-yet-narratively-disastrous adaption of HITMAN (despite the fact that he was actually fired off of the shoot by Fox for making it too violent), I choose to focus on the film that followed this failure; that of FRONTIER(S). Ushering in French new wave horror all the more, FRONTIER(S) was an unabashedly vicious emulation on American horror (such as THE HILLS HAVE EYES and THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE) which submerged the viewer in unrelenting brutality, amazing music, beautifully bleak cinematography, and a no-holds barred finale of shotgun-blasting, neo-Nazi dicing awesomeness. This film was testament to the skill and craft a director such as Gens was capable of when given the time and respect he needed. Thus, with the reveal of him helming THE DIVIDE, I couldn't have been more excited. While this newest foray into soul-crushing cynicism isn't without its faults, it's nonetheless an emotionally draining experience of the best kind; one that can't easily be shaken or forgotten.
As he did before, Gens has assembled his dynamic trinity of filmmaking. While he takes top position as director, Laurent Bares is once again positioned as cinematographer, and the incredible Jean-Pierre Taieb has been given full reign of music. Just as they did with FRONTIER(S), Gens, Bares and Taieb orchestrate each and every element of the film to jaw-dropping proportions. Like a great recipe, each compliments the other without overpowering. From the opening fire-bathed frames of the introduction and the ever-mounting tension within the claustrophobic bunker to that of the unbelievably gorgeous music which accompanies it all (seriously, this IS going to be the best original score of the year and is already one of my favorites of all time), THE DIVIDE is a product of patience, sweat and blood. . . Lots of blood.
Blowing me away nearly as much as the technicalities were that of the unadulterated performances from every actor involved. While Michael Biehn felt a little on the forced side at times during his improvisation (due to the fact that much of the film was handled this way), he nonetheless commanded the screen with one of his most personal and raw performances ever. And while Lauren German and Rosanna Arquette turn in excellent roles themselves, the true powerhouses herein were that of the film's most deplorable psychopaths: Milo Ventimiglia and Michael Eklund. While I understand many are awaiting Tom Hardy's portrayal of Bane in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, the antagonistic duo that is Josh and Bobby have already delivered (like the score) two of the strongest performances of the year. Physically and emotionally, each of these actors do complete 180's and become completely different subjects than when they started. As cruel and vile as their deeds become, Gens even manages to pepper in moments of sadness and possible lament for the two. One such scene in which a maleficent character undergoes a haircut became one the film's strongest. As the hair is forced from his scalp, he simply stares at the camera and gradually begins to cry--seemingly understanding the monster he's become. It's simple, effective and interesting when contrasting it against a similar scene in FRONTIER(S).
When considering how much THE DIVIDE does right, it's no surprise to see that it does some things wrong. For one, I would have loved to see more done with Michael Biehn's character during the climax as he seemed to have far more to offer than what the screenwriters allowed, especially considering that certain characters turn on him for nothing, but don't consider doing it towards others when they commit a crime tantamount to that of Biehn's. And while I dug the hazmat soldier side-story, I wish this hadn't been a simple footnote but more of a major plot-point as to what was happening in the wake of the white-hot nuke drop. I also found it interesting that the uncut version I witnessed was nowhere even remotely near the litmus test it was made out to be. In fact, the majority of violent content is handled with a remarkable amount of sustainability and maturity. As my friend put it, it was (all of the gruesome content) "the good kind of bad". When something is directed in just the right way so as to make the viewer feel the effect of something without it coming off as exploitive. Aside from these factors (and the sometimes iffy improve), THE DIVIDE hit all of the right notes with me. It's bleak and depressing, but it also retains a sense of hope and personal closure a picture of this order so desperately needs. For those willing to endure the apocalypse and observe his fellow man's descent into moral corruption, one need look no further than this depiction of a soul-shattering Ragnarok.