THE DIVIDE. Uncomfortable, heavy, and depressing piece of science fiction
In a normal environment where we can decide where to go, what to do, and whom to interact with, we are civilized, and our behaviors do not deviate from the norm. However, in extreme situations, instincts, including the most crucial one – survival, take precedence. The attempt to portray the human beast has been made many times in recent years, with varying success. John Hillcoat and Frank Darabont did it successfully, while Spielberg and the Hughes brothers had less luck. It takes considerable skill to bring such a delicate subject to the screen, which is why I am surprised that Xavier Gens, the creator of the weak Hitman and even weaker Frontière, succeeded.
The Divide begins, following Hitchcock’s principle, with an earthquake, and then the tension rises. We witness a disaster turning New York into ruins. Was it an air raid, or perhaps a nuclear weapon? It’s unknown. However, searching for an escape route, a group of seven people ends up in a bunker set up in the basement by someone named Mickey. Limited supplies, no sunlight, stale air, and uncertainty do not bode well. The situation is not improved by the fact that conflicts arise within the group from the very beginning. Most want to leave the shelter and see what happened, but they quickly change their minds after an armed team in suits storms the bunker and kidnaps the daughter of one of the heroines. From that moment on, the film gains momentum, and what happens on the screen makes one shake their head in disbelief.
The Divide is minimalist and claustrophobic, putting a heavy burden on the actors, and most of them handle the assigned task very well. Michael Biehn and Milo Ventimiglia definitely take the lead. They rule and dominate the screen. The former as Mickey is uncompromising and tough. He didn’t want the rest in the shelter, and it shows. He doesn’t mince words; if he needs to get someone in order, he does it, even if it involves the use of force. He can make tough decisions, even if they are drastic. We don’t know much about his past. He was a firefighter who participated in rescuing people after the WTC attacks, had a family, and that’s about it. How his service went, what happened to his loved ones – that remains a mystery. What is certain is that Biehn created a memorable character that I personally rooted for, the only one I felt some kind of sympathy for, no matter how it sounds.
As for Ventimiglia, roughly from the middle of The Divide, we get a dose of psychosis and sadism that could be distributed to several film psychos. The only thing that comes to mind is the mentioned animal. Torture, physical and psychological violence, attempts at manipulation and pressure, brutally bordering on rape – all of this is played so well that it genuinely disturbs and forces one to ask some important questions. Milo’s character satisfies his needs and tries to dominate the entire group, which he does very well.
It’s worth mentioning Rosanna Arquette and Michael Eklund. Their roles, especially the latter, have stuck in my memory so much that sitting in a pub with friends a few hours after the screening, I couldn’t get scenes in which they participated out of my head. The rest of the actors, although they have an impact on the action and push the story forward, do not stand out in any special way and could easily be replaced by someone else.
From a technical standpoint, there is nothing to fault The Divide for. The cinematography creates a claustrophobic atmosphere, and from the screen, dirt, filth, and severity ooze out. The music only deepens these feelings and provides an excellent backdrop for events, even breaking through to the forefront a few times, e.g., in the finale. In one or two scenes, the somewhat chaotic editing bothered me, but it was only at the very beginning, and I didn’t notice a similar situation later on. The computer effects are also very good, although there is a minimal amount of them in the film, they serve as a kind of clasp closing the film. It is worth adding that Gens’ film is brutal but not repulsive. Blood appears on the screen many times, but it is not random. The film does not flaunt unnecessary violent scenes, but if they do appear, they are straightforward, and the blood looks like real blood, not a computer-generated concoction.
A significant downside for many may be that the director introduces several interesting threads and then completely abandons their development, leaving a sense of dissatisfaction. For me, however, this is only a means, a kind of catalyst for the events in the bunker because the most important thing in this story is the people. A few standard and unnecessary dialogues and a few logical errors can also be thrown into the bag of complaints, but they are so small that they do not affect the overall picture.
The Divide is a difficult, emotionally engaging film that forces you to think. Since watching Eden Lake, I haven’t experienced such a feeling of helplessness. After the screening, when the emotions had subsided a bit, I began to wonder: what would I do in such a situation? Would I give up, or would I try to dominate, lose my senses, and start behaving like an animal, or would I fight to the very end for shreds of dignity? The film is uncomfortable, heavy, and depressing, hence probably its low ratings. However, I think it’s worth getting to know and finding out what a person can be capable of in a hopeless situation.
A powerful piece of cinema.