Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Is That a Sausage In Your Pocket Or Are You Just Hoarding Food In the Bomb Shelter?

Time and time again I say: I love films set around the apocalypse. 

Set them on the last day of the world 

Point is, if you ring the bell for the end of the world, I will skip to faster than Pavlov’s puppy being weaned on Red Bull. Hence, The Divide!
Quick Plot: As nuclear war wages on the streets of Manhattan, a gaggle of apartment dwellers follows grizzly super Mickey (Terminator’s Michael Biehn) down into his well-fortified bomb shelter. Among those who make it before John Connor’s dad seals the door:

Eva (Hostel 2’s Lauren German), quietly smart and strong

Sam, her twerpy French lawyer boyfriend
Adrian, a thoughtful 20something
Josh, his alpha half-brother

Bobby, their slightly punkish pal
Delvin (Courtney B. Vance), a paranoid (or IS HE?) middle ager
And Marilyn (Rosanna Arquette!) and her 10ish year old daughter

Funny. About a half hour into The Divide, I worried, as in the case in these types of ensemble films, that I had and would continue to have no real differentiation between the younger male characters. Yes, ‘Sam’ had an accent, but he also looked quite a bit like ‘Josh.' Meanwhile, I still had no real idea how ‘Bobby’ fit into any of it: was he Josh’s boyfriend? A drug dealer? A good guy or villain? A redhead who shares Matthew McConoughy's allergy to wearing shirts?

One of the many pleasant surprises about The Divide was that eventually, I knew exactly who Bobby was, even if I, well, still didn’t. He wasn’t The Hothead or The Jerk or The Horny Guy. He was Bobby. 

(See what I mean about the shirt thing?)

He was all of these things. He was hotheaded, pretty jerky, and eventually, incredibly horny. Because that’s what people are like. They aren’t easily defined with one character trait, no matter how easy it generally is for screenwriters to create their cast as such. Hence, despite the characters of The Divide NOT necessarily fitting into easy stereotypes, I ultimately remembered every single one of their names.
But I’m getting ahead of myself with enthusiasm. I haven’t even told you what actually happens in the movie now, have I, and shame on me when film in question includes John Connor’s dad slapping people, jokes about cannibalism, threesomes in Hazmat suits, and Chekhov’s Law of Septic Holes. 

Well, maybe we should forget about that one...
Once safe and snug in Mickey’s decently stocked lair, the gang slowly falls ill to the worst form of cabin fever that doesn’t involve skin peeling and pancakes. Because this is a new DVD release, I’ll avoid spoiling anything specific, but trust me when I say The Divide doesn’t shy away from making some pretty dire decisions, from surprise early deaths to physically AND emotionally horrific side effects of, you know, being trapped in a basement during a nuclear holocaust.

Yes, some characters turn to the dark side when the future’s bleakness never lifts. You could sniff that out as soon as Delvin catches Mickey hoarding sausage while the rest of the gang sucks up canned beans. But for as easily as some characters follow the obvious path, The Divide packs plenty of surprises. Arquette’s Marilyn begins as a worried mother and ends as...

Well, let’s just say it’s a brave performance.
Similarly, German’s Eva is our clear heroine from frame one, and while she does serve as our stable center, she also takes turns we never see coming. Xavier Gens pulled off a similar tract with his lead in Frontier(s), an effective but slightly rote torture flick that demonstrated great promise from the French director. The Divide definitely proves Gens to be one to watch, with great skills at getting solid performances and an effectively escalating sense of doom. Credit also goes to screenwriting team Karl Mueller and Eron Sheean, plus a cast that probably ate from the lamest craft service table since Hunger.
High Points
Oh okay fine, I’ve held out this long, but here we go with one SPOILER

I kind of love that The Divide never REALLY gives us answers about its external conflict. We know that the city (and possibly the world) is indeed coated in nuclear fallout, but what that ultimately means for Eva and what went on in those Hazmat wearing soldiers(?) child-keeping lab is left a mystery. Not knowing is somehow so much more horrifying than any explanation would probably suggest.

Low Points
While I do think The Divide went further in uglying up its actors than most films of its type would, there’s a part of me that simply wishes one could take the complete cast of Jim Mickle’s Mulberry Street--another fine low budget New York-set horror film--and plug them in instead. The actors in The Divide are perfectly good once they get going, but how common is it to find that seven out of seven survivors of a nuclear apocalypse like, really really ridiculously good-looking.

For such a strong and different genre movie, it’s an absolute shame that the DVD (at least the one Netflix stocks) is naked of any special features. Considering the entire cast was apparently put on starvation diets (and boy do the effects show) it’s incredibly frustrating to feel deprived of a grumpy Dorito filled commentary track where they duct tape the screenwriters down to a chair for putting them through hell or behind-the-scenes featurettes catching Rosanna Arquette sneaking Milky Ways
Lessons Learned
Why you should never let a man pack a bomb shelter: there are certain, um, female toiletries that he might forget are needed on a monthly basis

Removing the helmet of a man whom you’ve just caused intense head trauma to is an act that should be done with extreme care

Nobody but nobody eats Bobby’s penis

I would be all too willing to recommend a bargain-priced blind buy, but since The Divide comes with nary a special feature (well, there IS a scene selection option which is more than one could say for David Lynch releases) then I’ll just say put it on the top of your rental queue. It’s a harsh watch, but if you’re one of those weirdos who really enjoys harsh watches about the end of the world and horror of mankind, then boy is this the movie for you!


  1. Sounds cool! I'll have to give it a watch!

    As for my bomb shelter plans for
    when the apocalypse comes, I'll have a swanky and swingin' bomb shelter!...because I'll have murdered it's owners...

    By the way, I mentioned a confederate zombie movie to you a while back-Night of Horror, the most boring film ever made right behind Gerry and The Brown Bunny!-I just got a review of it up. It's one of the worst things in the history of things, and I totally recommend it!

  2. Wha....? I Hated Frontiers, hated this even more. Mean spirited for its own sake and way too freaking long. The characters immediately go into full a-hole mode and are all thoroughly unlikable and unbelievable throughout. I wish Biehn could have slapped everybody including the screenwriters. The only part that interested me was the outside stuff which went nowhere fast. In short, a big disappointment, especially since I bought it on the blind. Glad you liked it, but kind of nonplussed as I didn't think anyone could make it through this.

  3. Good thinking Chris. It's important to murder the right people. Will check out the review soon, I'm eager to see how Confederate zombies could NOT be fun.

    Thanks Richard! I was proud myself.

    Shiftless: Iiiiiiiiinteresting, especially as I know you're such an apocalypto yourself. I do agree that Biehn should've just killed all the ungrateful bastards 10 minutes in, but I don't know: I was just sucked in. I liked that it didn't shy away from anything, that even though I thought I was dealing with stock characters, everyone ultimately became something interesting to me. I didn't love Frontier(s), but I thought it was well-executed and showed promise, and I liked seeing Gens broaden out. Sigh. I guess we can agree to disagree? Just promise me liking The Divide doesn't ban me from YOUR bomb shelter...

  4. This is the 2nd review of this I've read today and both have praised it. Since I, like you, jump at the bell at the end of the world, I'm definitely checking this out!

  5. Hope you enjoy--well, enjoy isn't the right word. Hope you like it!

  6. Man, I think all those crappy B movies have lowered your expectations so far that you'll like ANYTHING! :)

    This movie is horrible. Like, really horrible. To point fingers, it's the script. I mean, the movie LOOKS good, and has 1 interesting twist that's not explored AT ALL.

    But there are so many instances of "Why did that person just do that? That makes no sense..." that my buddies and I just kept looking at each other hoping the others could explain why someone just did something.

    He's not a bad director, but he needs a good script.

  7. Oh, I never claimed to have good taste! And I dunno: I like to think I'd be all responsible and stuff in case of bomb shelter seclusion, but there's a part of me that could totally see myself snapping immediately and accusing everyone around me of hoarding food. So I give such attitudes a pass I guess...

    1. In that case, no way I'm letting you into my bomb shelter Emily - no whackos allowed! Kangas, I agree with you 100%, and you can take Emily's spot in the shelter ;-)

  8. But...but...I can keep everyone entertained with a homemade Scattegories game. I have my use! I swear!

  9. Sweet, I'm in! I'll bring guns and a big axe, and we can watch every movie I ever directed over and over until we're rescued. (or you commit suicide, and I think I know which is coming first)

  10. There are totally worse ways to spend the end of the world. Have you seen The Darkest Hour?