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1 review, 4 user ratings

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Divide, The
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by Jay Seaver

"This is the end and there are no friends."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2011 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: What do you want from your post-apocalyptic tales? "The Divide" lays the two paths out before the us - strangeness and danger outside or paranoia and infighting inside - and then literally seals the characters in. That's not the wrong decision, but, wow, are the glimpses of the other path that the film could have taken tantalizing.

It doesn't matter why, but the bombs are falling, and Mickey (Michael Biehn) is ready; the 9/11 survivor has converted the basement of the building where he's the superintendent into a fallout shelter. He may not have been expecting to ride it out with roommates, but he's got a few: Young couple Eva (Lauren German) and Sam (Ivan Gonzalez); engineer Delvin (Courney B. Vance); mother Marilyn (Rosanna Arquette) and daughter Wendy (Abbey Thickson); half-brothers Josh (Milo Ventimiglia) and Adrien (Ashton Holmes); and their friend Bobby (Michael Eklund). Attempting to explore the outside backfires in a big way, trapping them in the basement, and the situation gets worse when the other characters start to suspect that the already misanthropic Mickey is holding out on them.

That's a pretty strong cast, and director Xavier Gens gives them remarkably free reign, shooting the picture in chronological order and encouraging improvisation. During the post-film Q&A, he mentioned that very little of the original scripted dialog remains in the film, while some actors (most notably Michael Eklund) took this freedom and ran with it, making minor parts into showcases. That's a tricky way to work if everybody isn't on the same page, and to a certain extent the movie does become something of a shouting match, with whichever characters are more psychotic and whichever actors are more willing to play that up ruling the day. Saner characters and actors less apparently willing to just seize their screen time sometimes get pushed to the side.

Can't say that doesn't yield some pretty memorable performances, though. Take Michael Biehn, an actor who has mostly made a living by walking the line between "nice guy" and "tough guy" (most memorably for James Cameron); his Mickey is an angry, prejudiced man, and Biehn rips into it, giving what probably isn't his best performance but is likely his fiercest. Similarly, Milo Ventimiglia has a chance to take a character that starts out as just kind of a jerk and make him somewhat larger than life (in one direction or the other) under pressure. Eklund, as mentioned, finds a lot of gonzo material as Bobby. Less showy but still impressive is Ivan Gonzalez doing a slow collapse as Sam.

Gens herds these performances together well enough, although toward the end there are moments when the freedom he'd allowed the actors backfires and he has to fit the characterization the actors created and the fixed events of the script together with mixed results. Like a lot of people coming out of the French horror scene, the man does not screw around; he and writers Karl Mueller and Eron Sheean constantly take a worst-case scenario and find ways to focus on the nastier aspects of it, so that as bad as things start out, there is a constant sense of deterioration, both in what the characters are willing (and even anxious) to do, general cleanliness, and the environment itself. The recurring scenes of different characters' hair falling out is a pretty clear and dire reminder that this is not a situation about finding equilibrium or waiting things out; the environment is poisonous (yeah, that's an obvious metaphor, right up there with what you've got to walk through to escape it).

I must admit, I do wish that the filmmakers had spent more time on the science-fictional aspects of this, because Gens and company make those moments stunning. The opening scene is a horrific little masterpiece, and what other glimpses we get of the outside world are well thought out, creative, and slickly shot. It seems more than a bit of a tease to stick those in front of the audience and then go back to the same poorly-lit basement.

But, what's going on outside is another movie. This movie is the one about the people trapped inside, and you can't say it doesn't deliver all the cabin fever and recrimination that would often come from this situation.

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originally posted: 07/24/11 01:50:20
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2011 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the Fantasia International Film Festival 2011 series, click here.

User Comments

5/24/15 Nancy Not pleasant, but highly probable; and uncomfortable, great movie 4 stars
7/11/12 Bryce This movie was horrible ( in my perspective ). I think that a lot of the parts were sick 1 stars
7/24/11 anansiboy A great, sick, and tremendous movie 5 stars
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