Wednesday, 30 May 2012

The Divide

Title: The Divide
Director: Xavier Gens
Released: 1989
Staring: Lauren German, Iván González, Michael Biehn, Milo Ventimiglia, Michael Eklund, Courtney B. Vance, Rosanna Arquette, Abbey Thickson

Plot: Opening to New York bathed in Nuclear fire, as the bombs of some unknown enemy fall on the city. Eva (German) watches from her apartment window paralyzed by what she is seeing before being grabbed by her boyfriend Sam (González) as they join the rest of the buildings residents scrambling to escape, as further explosions drive the crowd towards the buildings bomb shelter. Forcing their way into the shelter eight survivors now find themselves sealed in with the buildings superintendent aswell as resident survivalist Mickey (Biehn) while not knowing what remains of the world outside.


Review: I am very much of the opinion that there are certain movies you have to go to the cinema to enjoy such as Transformers, Independence day and generally anything directed by Michael Bay which involves him making things go boom. Equally there are movies which you have to enjoy at home, with this film very much falling in this latter category, because god only knows what sort of cinema experience this would have been like!

Directed by Xavier Gens who first burst onto the scene with his contribution to the birth of “New French Extremity” with the highly visceral “Frontiere(s)” which seemingly set out to challenge the stomachs of even the most hardened gorehounds, before soon following this achievement with his first English film “Hitman” an adaptation of the popular video game series, which would be greeted with mixed reactions for its theatrical cut, yet was released as a much more satisfying uncut version on DVD. Now with this latest film he has chosen to scale back the scope of his previous film, as he chooses instead to ramp up the claustrophobic tension by inviting his audience to spend a nerve shredding two hours in the pressure cooker which is Mickey’s bunker, as he explores what happens when humans start to revert to their most primal of instincts.

Having been thrown together in the bunker this group of survivors are a mixed bunch, yet at the same time somehow what we have come to expect from groups of survivors in these situations, for we have the meatheads Josh (Ventimiglia) and Bobby (Eklund), the wannabe peacemaker Devlin (Vance), the unhinged psycho Mickey and the token parent and child which we get with Marilyn (Arquette) and her daughter Wendy (Thickson). Meanwhile Eva, Sam and Adrien (Ashton Holmes) are left to play the wild cards who ultimately amount to little, despite the frequent attempts by Director Gens to make Eva the films heroine. However the film ultimately finds itself too spread out between so many characters, meaning she is left like so many of the characters undeveloped past surface motives and as such becomes more the observer whom the audience lives this experience through. Still despite such weak and often predictable characterisation, the real strength of the film comes from how unpredictable everything else about the film soon becomes, for we are barely settled into the groups bare and grimy surroundings before armed soldiers are bursting into the bunker dressed in biohazard suits. This decision to place such a scene so early in the film is a key example of how Gens chooses to play around with the audience’s expectations thoughout, for while we may have seen this setting in previous post apocalyptic films, he seems almost determined to still try and keep his audience off guard here. However it is only after these same soliders weld the door of the bunker shut that the real meat of the film actually starts, for now faced with seemingly no escape and quickly dwindling rations it is only a matter of time before things start to get really ugly.

Slowly cranking up the pressure Gens is not a director to be rushed, as the deadly combination of cabin fever and radiation sickness begin to take their toll on the survivors, while power struggles for the few resources available to them erupt amongst the group. Needless to say it’s not long before a divide has been drawn between the two with Josh and Bobby soon taking control of the rations stockpile, while subjecting the others to their violent whims with Marilyn soon being manipulated into obeying their frequently perverse sexual whims, she slowly beginning her decent into a haunting state of madness echoing the hysteria of “Frontiere(s)” as the film soon turns into a sort of psychosexual “Lord of The Flies”. Needless to say it’s soon left to Eve to provide the groups moral compass, atleast in theory especially as her actions frequently come with an air of self preservation than trying to turn the tide of increasingly ugly actions happening in the bunker. Sadly Gens it would seem also interprets intense as having his cast shout a lot, which at times does feel like your watching the worlds longest argument, while detracting from some scenes as it adds unneeded distraction from the real drama of the characters interactions.

 Equally frustrating is how the subplot of the true nature of the Hazmat soldiers is quickly dropped, especially when they are given such an intriguing setup. Still this is just one of numerous loose ends which are never tied up, much like what Mickey’s connection to the 9/11 attacks are, which are heavily hinted at along with a details of his wife and daughter, only to just as quickly be forgotten. Still if you like characterisation you will no doubt hate this film for the sheet lack of it on offer, as none of the character receive much if any form of background, as Gens instead focuses purely on their current actions.

Still the cast are all watchable enough if ranging wildly in terms of acting talent with the majority having had their largest roles in TV roles. Needless to say the sole big name on the cast being Biehn which will no doubt have the fans of “Aliens” renting this film for his appearance alone. Meanwhile Biehn also retains his ongoing theme of facial hair equaling crazy, for whenever he appears with any kind of facial hair it would seem his crazy side is normally close by as proven especially in “The Abyss” compares to the clean shaven sane characters he is equally remembered for as proven by his roles in both “The Terminator” and the aforementioned “Aliens”, whose fans will be equally happy to know that he seemingly hasn’t aged since then while easily giving one of his best performances in years and one which will hopefully see him in more mainstream projects.

The art direction here is absolutely first rate from the minimalist designs of the bunker, to the hazmat clad soliders who were easily one of my favourite things about this film and so distinctive is their styling I wouldn’t be surprised if these suits show up at the next comic-con. Meanwhile the survivors deteriorating conditions are realistically portrayed with some fantastic make up, which benefits heavily from Gens choosing to shoot the film in chronological order, so that the sickness ravaging their bodies can be slowly eased out, so that it becomes truly shocking how distorted this highly photogenic group becomes by the end of the film. What is surprising though is how toned down the gore quota is, especially when compared to Gens previous films which are easily amongst some of the most bloody and violent films to be released in recent years and it was interesting to see Gens still able to prove himself affective even when not painting the walls in blood and gore.

While it might be flawed it is still a watchable film, even though it’s claustrophobic nightmare of a setting and slow decent into madness and sickness might have been done better in the extremely underrated “The Hole”, but it is still a haunting viewing experience and hence one best watched at home, as no doubt viewing it in the cinema would be an experience easily comparable to watching “Schindler’s List” or “Martyrs” and possibly not the sort of fun night out you’d want from such a setting, especially with Gens vision being as bleak as it is, making it one to rent cautiously rather than buy.


  1. I didn't love it either, found some redeeming qualities in it and it deserves at least a watch, but I found it a labor to watch.

  2. It could have definitely have benefited from tighter plotting and losing some of the sub plots. My main gripe I guess is that by the end it had become more of an endurance test than seeing what would happen to the group.

    Still the music on the trailer is haunting as hell and almost as memorable as the music from the Xtro 2 trailer. Also nice to see Michael Biehn showing his crazy side, which he always does so well.

  3. At first, I had a similar opinion about the characters' past lives never being acknowledged, but by the time the film was over, I was totally on board with that. It didn't matter who they were before that bunker. Once that door was closed, they were living in a different world.

    1. I like the end part of your theory, as it's really once they sealed the bunker door, that we really started seeing their true characters emerging. Still until they seal the bunker the film plays around too much with its subplots only to drop them suddenly after this point in the film.

      Personally I would have much learned more about the hazmat soldiers and gone down the path of surviors vs soldiers than the Lord of the Flies est route it opts to take instead.


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