8 April, 2012

The Divide (18)

Dir. Xavier Gens , US, Year 2012, 110 mins

Cast: Lauren German, Michael Biehn and Milo Ventimiglia

Review by Dan Collacott

Residents from a Manhattan high-rise hole up in a basement bunker under their building after a nuclear attack levels the city above them. The survivors are a fractious bunch, consisting of a loveless couple, a single mother, two sadistic brothers and their half brother, and a racist New York fireman (for the 9/11 angle). Despite the elaborate shelter being stocked with food and electricity, the spectre of hope fades quickly when they are sealed in by mysterious men in hazmat suits.

Frontiers director Xavier Gens expertly crafts a Lord of the Flies style scenario where a group of humans cut adrift from civilization descend into anarchy, paranoia and primitive regression. Gens cultivates the descent of their humanity through a series of key touch points, from the dismemberment and disposal of corpses, to extreme violence, child abduction, incarceration, radiation sickness, torture and rape. 

Screenwriters Karl Mueller and Eron Sheenan keep dialogue minimal, weaving a complex, layered and highly visual drama. Gens films the whole piece chronologically with little character exposition, keeping the tension high and the deterioration disturbingly tangible. The world inside the shelter soon becomes more terrifying than the nightmare that awaits them outside. The transformation of the group is incredible - aptly demonstrated by the photo of Josh below:

The group’s behaviour becomes increasingly more desperate and unhinged, but the level of moral ambiguity and changing dynamics within the group make it hard to really empathise with any of them. Only Eva (Lauren German) seems capable of keeping her head. The graphic violence and debauchery reaches a climax when the film’s focus moves to the two brothers (played brilliantly by Milo Ventimiglia and Michael Eklund as Josh and Mickey). Exhibiting arrested development from the start, the duo rise up to the top of the pecking order. Grieving mother Marilyn (Patricia Arquette) becomes the target of their spite and sexual cruelty. Under their control the situation warps into a playground of violence, immorality and degradation until the group inevitably collapses in on itself.

I first saw The Divide at Frightfest last year and there was much to be admired from this tense and claustrophobic apocalypse survival story. The themes and characterisations are stomach churning and unnerving, but the writing, direction and incredible cinematography from Laurent Barès combine to create a film that challenges and astounds in equal measure.