Director of the controversial horror film Frontier(s) and one the better video game adaptations, Hitman, Xavier Gens is for the most part, an unknown ready to breakout. He doesn’t have a particular style that can be picked out from a mile away, but he does have an eye for taking simple concepts and expanding them into richer content. Hitman could have easily been ruined if a more mainstream director took the reins, but Gens respectfully remained faithful to the series while adding enough action and flare to warrant a big screen adaptation. The Divide is a post-apocalyptic film that’s more concerned with its characters than the actual end of the world setting. That is however, both the films biggest strength and biggest weakness.
Seconds after a nuclear attack Eva (Lauren German) and fellow tenants take shelter in the basement. Mickey (Michael Biehn), the owner of the apartment complex, has been preparing for this day, keeping a healthy stock of canned foods, water and comfort items. As the days go by and food becomes scarce, basic human instincts start to take over. Dominance, vulnerability and lack of security push those around Eva to the boiling point, causing confrontation and tension among each other while they wait in fear of what is left outside.
The Divide is an ugly, unhinged approach to what really happens to people when they’re locked up and forced to worry about basic everyday luxuries like food and drink. It’s the erosion of the mind and human spirit as emotions break apart. Director Xavier Gens quickly establishes the type of film he’s trying to make, with the opening credits showing you the only end of the world “action” of the film. Once the characters are locked up inside the basement, their true selves slowly start to pick away at each other.
Their superficial sides start peeling back as each waking hour goes by, letting out full-on rage. The film instantly deserves credit for taking such a tired concept and coming at it from a completely different angle. The Divide isn’t about what caused the nuclear outbreak or what’s left of the world; it’s about what people will do when they’re stripped down to their bare existence. It’s about taking away basic things like sunlight and toothpaste and showing you how that affects people in the long run.
Gens shows the extreme side of things, with sexual desires and male dominance being the first things to takeover, but he also captures the subtle gestures from the silent types and those trying to deal with the situation in their own ways.
Lauren German plays Eva, the main star of the film that probably does the least with what she’s given. Eva is the passive type who just sits around and tells everyone to stop arguing. Her character does progress into something a little more towards the end of the film, but the middle grounds feels like wasted screen time. German does nothing to really provoke any sort of emotion from Eva. She’s lifeless and lacking of any specific traits that would make her character more relatable or sympathetic. She also looks a lot like Milla Jovovich, which isn’t a bad thing, but it’s kind of distracting because I spent most of the film waiting for her to start beating the crap out of the looney’s while doing flips off the walls. (I’m kidding)
Michael Biehn is both hilarious and intimidating as Mickey, the apartment owner. Mickey is established as one of those conspiracy planners that knew a bomb was going to drop eventually, but his characters past is later hinted at, which adds in some emotional closure. Biehn has a blast with his role. Mickey is both the bad ass that is constantly spouting off profanity, while also being the only person who hasn’t completely lost it. It’s great watching Biehn steal the scenes right from under everyone else.
The biggest breakout performance of the film is delivered by Milo Ventimiglia. He’s completely off his rocker in this film. He starts out as another insecure man, trying to prove his strength and lack of fear by venturing outside of the basement, despite numerous warnings, but the longer the film runs the more his character loses his grasp on reality. Watching him go from annoying want to be tough guy to nutcase is an uncomfortable experience, but one to savor, because Gens doesn’t hold back on what he’s trying to show and Ventimiglia isn’t afraid to rape, torture, shave or kill anyone.
Performances aside, The Divide‘s strong focus on character drama instead of action or external conflict is what also ruins the film. Biehn is the only capable actor of delivering a heavyweight performance that could carry the film and he’s instead channeling a more fun role. The rest of the cast tries their best to be weird and unstable, but the feeling starts to come across as forced. Gens starts The Divide with a strong bang, throwing characters together suddenly and dropping in a few scenes that answer questions that you’ll for sure have rattling around, but then it sinks into the thicker content of the film.
It breaks down each character and shows the other characters reactions. It’s intense material, but it starts substituting craziness for purpose. Things start to shift out of focus, causing the film to feel empty and exhausting to watch. The final blow comes at the end, which feels rushed and unorganized. A much tighter and more satisfying ending would have helped the film pick up from its crippled middle act, but there’s no light at the end of the ashy tunnel, just more rubble and radiation.
Xavier Gens paints a bleak and depressing picture by keeping the worry on what’s inside the shelter and not what’s outside. The characters are the main attraction, but eventually the film runs out of substance and begins its descent into an ending filled with emptiness and disappointment. Those looking for answers won’t find any in The Divide, but those looking for something that pushes the boundaries with its characters will want to at least rent the film. Its structure is weak, but you can’t say Gens and most of the cast didn’t try.
The Divide – 6/10