I didn't have any set expectations going into Xavier Gens' provocative survival drama "The Divide." Love it or hate it, one thing is certain: this is a movie that seems destined to polarize (or divide) its audience. Its supporters will call it a modern masterpiece. Guaranteed. Its strongest detractors will call it a nihilistic mess. Absolutely. Maybe its both--a modern messy nihilistic masterpiece. For the most part, the film was savaged by the mainstream media. On the other hand, the movie seemed to connect with audiences at key film festivals including Edinburgh, SXSW, Fant-Asia, and Toronto After Dark. So I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best. Make no mistake, the goal of Gens is to provoke and push buttons with his uncompromisingly unpleasant look at people pushed to extremes. And any film that can elicit strong emotions--good or bad--is a rarity in this movie world where we make homogenized formula pieces designed by committee.
"The Divide" literally starts with the end of the world as we know it. As a nuclear attack ravages the city, a small band of survivors makes it to safety in their apartment building basement. This disparate group seem well supplied for the moment thanks to the brusque building super (Michael Biehn) who instantly takes on the alpha male position. Amidst the usual squabbles, pettiness, and annoyances--their plan to wait out the radiation takes a radical turn when the outside world invades in a dangerously uncomfortable way. As time passes, the group faces increasingly unpleasant choices and this little microcosm of society starts to break down in harrowing and disturbing ways. Although the film is marketed as a horror film, in no way do I see it in this context. This is a straight-out drama about people trapped in close quarters disintegrating into madness and desperation--and, on those terms, I found it wildly effective and affecting. It's not an easy experience, but it's a memorable one.
The movie never attempts to explain what's happening in the real world in any tangible way. It is this uncertainty that drives the story's fear. I'm giving "The Divide" a strong recommendation not because it's a perfect movie (far from it), but because it takes a familiar concept and really swings for the fences. It is bold and pushes conventional boundaries. As I already said, this may cause you to loathe the movie. And that's a perfectly reasonable response. I take an alternate viewpoint, this is a movie that really stands out. The characters can be instantly unlikable or over-the-top and the screenplay pushes too hard in the initial confrontations, but as the movie settles into its rhythm--I was fully on board for this claustrophobic nightmare. In addition to Biehn, there are other familiar faces including Rosanna Arquette, Milo Ventimiglia, Ashton Holmes, and Courtney B. Vance. The cast is really committed to go to dark places and is led by moral compass Lauren German in a nicely understated contrast.
In the end, "The Divide" may be a gamble (especially for those expecting a horror film). But for those that love the movie, it is one that pays off. If you're looking for something intense, provocative, disturbing, uncomfortable, and different--try this for extreme human drama. And the Blu-ray looks and sounds terrific. KGHarris, 3/12.