While the standard genres such as comedy and drama have retained their popularity since man first began telling stories to his friends, others have gained a firm place in the repertoire of the seasoned story teller relatively recently. The film considered here, ‘The Divide’ belongs to such a genre, the post apocalyptic thriller. During the cold war of the fifties and sixties science fiction began to explore the possibilities of a devastated planet after an all out nuclear exchange. Then with growing concerns over the rapid advances in genetics and the potential for worldwide collapse due to a pandemic there was another potential cause of society’s downfall to concern the exceptionally cautious. The fears still persist to the point of a current series on cable television highlighting the preparations some people are making to survive the ‘coming Apocalypse’. My thoughts went to that somewhat odd TV show because they concentrate on a single family’s proposed response to the end of the world. In ‘The Divide’ society’s annihilation is depicted in the microcosm of a single city block. The premise of running to a basement will strike a stronger emotional response to the members of the baby boomer generation. Younger members of the audience just aren’t properly conditioned to fully appreciate the mind set induced by the paranoia of that era. As kids we were regularly paraded down to the school basement, in size order, to hide in the fallout shelter. Of course that was only slightly more reassuring than duck and cover beneath a quarter inch pressboard desk. A childhood background like this make a person much more conducive to getting into the requisite mood required to get into this flick. Those that matured without the spectra of nuclear cataclysm pounded into our every waking minute will find the premise of this film more unbelievable. For us the idea of having to eke out a means to survive to a random group of strangers may seem untenable to the younger set but to us it was a constant nightmare for us. From a cinematic perspective the movie could have been tighter, better constructed but in some way this actually works consider the themes explored. A reasonable case can be made that a post apocalyptic film should come across as disorganized, on the verge of collapsing on itself.
The long feared nightmare finally rams into reality. A nuclear weapon flattens New York City immediately devastating the social authority that provided some modicum of structure to the large city. Some of the residence of an apartment complex rush out of their dwellings seeking relative safety from the devastation. Subsequent explosions force a small group of survivors down into the basement. Only eight residents manage to make it to the building’s long forgotten bomb shelter before the superintendent, Mickey Michael Biehn) closes them in. There is a touch of Biblical allusion here; Noah’s ark had eight people within before the door was closed by God. In both cases the small groups of survivors were isolated from the destruction that is changing the world. The group consists of Eva (Lauren German), her boyfriend Sam (ván González), Josh (Milo Ventimiglia) and his brother Adrian (), Josh’s friend, Bobby (Michael Eklund), Marilyn (Rosanna Arquette) and her daughter Wendi (Abbey Thickson) and a man named Devlin (Courtney B. Vance). As horror fans know eight is an ideal number of people to put in a survival situation. it offers sufficient variety in the archetypes present, permits both romantic relationships and antagonisms, giving the group a nice cross section of society with enough left if you have to kill a couple of people off. The setting is well considered for such a story. The bomb shelter provides a claustrophobic crucible perfectly suited to push otherwise rational people beyond the point of reason. This trope has always been a favorite of mine since the terror and anxiety is generated by normal people pressed into the most abnormal circumstances imaginable.
One direction that could have been used here, especially conducive to a low budget Indy, to restrict the story to the confines of the basement and observe the dissolution of the social dynamic. The scope of the film is broadened with the inclusion of a contingent of heavily armed men in bio-hazard suits. Their masks make it impossible to determine the nationality of the squad. This does heighten the suspense when they attack the men in the group and seize Wendi. A rescue mission is prepared to retrieve the little girl. While this does expand the potential for conflict by creating an external threat but it also became the start of the narrative unraveling. A story like this is best when honed to a sharp point. The mysterious men take the emphasis away from the core characters mudding the waters considerably. Some of the plot devices used to show the group’s interaction becomes diluted. Marilyn tries to convince Eva to hook up with Josh to satiate the men’s need for sex. Under these conditions most men would agree that basic survival would cool some of their natural sexual desires. When the story refocuses on the shortage of fundamental supplies the narrative starts to pull back but it comes across as too little, too late. At least is pushes off from the shifting sexual relationships in the face of multiple sources of mortal danger. That is just too close to some really dark soap opera.
It is not unusual for a small independent film to boast a well known cast. Michael Biehn and Milo Ventimiglia are both talented actors well known in the Sci-Fi fan base. Courtney B. Vance and Rosanna Arquette are excellent character actors that always bring their considerable ability in assuming the nuances of their roles. In all while the central characters are one dimensional the actors go a long way to breathe life into them. The script team of Karl Mueller and Eron Sheean demonstrate some potential in the fundamental construction of the premise but the details fail to properly coalesce. This type of screenplay was ambitious but didn’t achieve its potential. Director Xavier Gens has some on point experience with thrillers including the science fiction tinged ‘Hitman’ back in 2007. He did an admirable job trying to keep the pacing on track despite the loose script. Gens does appear to have a knack for trusting his cast as talented professionals capable of pulling the most out of their roles. Enjoyment of this flick may depend on generational affiliation but all should find this a solid beer and pizza movie.