Published Jan 19, 2012Even for a film about atomic destruction, The Divide is a bleak affair. Xavier Gens takes a sardonic view of human nature, suggesting that the selfishness and cowardice of our fellow man is far more insidious a threat than mutagenic microbes.
The familiar horror and science fiction set ups of strangers trapped in a room and a society-destroying scenario from an unknown aggressor are effectively blended with the degenerating moralism of The Lord of the Flies.
A rather beautiful mushroom cloud reflected in a young woman's eye is the film's first (and nowhere near last) arresting image. After a serene moment to absorb the destruction, panic sets in and we witness an apartment building's worth of frantic inhabitants racing for the basement. Eight people force their way past the building's superintendent before he manages to get the door to a well-stocked bomb shelter sealed: a mother and daughter, a troubled couple, two brothers and two more men.
Presuming they'll be rescued in a reasonable amount of time, the survivors manage to more or less keep their shit together at first, after some initial temper tantrums. Mickey (Michael Biehn, The Terminator), the shelter's owner, and a cynical bigot, is a harsh, but sensible leader, endearing him to no one, despite his practicality and begrudging hospitality. As scared as the adults are, while the little girl is among them, every effort is made to keep a brave face, but after an unexpected plot turn removes both the girl and any hope that help is coming, vicious ids begin to surface.
Paranoia, power struggles and aggressive psychosexual torment lead the characters to almost cartoonish extremes of depravity and equally deplorable complicity. Only one character seems interested in "doing the right thing," and he's never presented in a sympathetic light. A beautiful, minimalist piano score helps ground the film's growing lunacy, highlighting the poignancy of turning to insanity as a coping mechanism.
Despite a slow start, some lazy dialogue, a few underdeveloped characters and a couple lacklustre performances, The Divide has teeth and vision, building an increasingly more damning case against altruism and even basic human decency in the face of death and anarchy.
If it weren't for a frustrating red herring shoehorned in only as means for introducing equipment necessary for later plot developments, while brushing past wild ideas that hang unresolved and fail to complement the film thematically, this would be an unreserved recommendation for viewers interested in a harsh view of the dark side of apocalyptic survival. (Anchor Bay)