Here we go again, as I dig into the teetering pile of shrink-wrapped films over in the dustiest annex of my DVD library.
What have we here? Let me blow the dust off, and scrabble at the cling film, picking with a nail for some kind of purchase. A pointless exercise. I know I’m going to have to get the scissors out eventually. Succumb to my will, disc.
This week’s film has actually been chosen for me. Leading Man Clive spotted it in the photo I posted of my mountain of goodies, and was keen to see what I thought. It was a highlight for him of 2011’s Frightfest. I could do no more than to follow his suggestion.
From here on in, consider SPOILER ALERTS in operation.
This week’s Movie Unwrapped is:
THE DIVIDE (2011)
dir: Xavier Gens
scr: Karl Mueller and Eron Sheean
starring: Michael Biehn, Lauren German, Milo Ventimiglia
We start with the end of the world. New York falls under nuclear fire, and we join a motley crew of survivors in the basement of an apartment building: three street toughs, a husband and wife going through marriage difficulties, a mother and daughter, a black guy and the super of the building. Locked in, with limited food and water, they wait for rescue.
It seems to come when a group of soldiers in hazmat suits torch open the heavy metal door. But the soldiers have another agenda, and they grab the little girl and spirit her away. One of the toughs tries a rescue, only to find that the girl is being subjected to strange experiments, sleeping in a metal tank and hooked up to strange machinery. He runs back for reinforcements, only to be followed by more of the hazmats, who weld the door shut. Now the strangers must work together to find a way out and rescue the girl before it’s too late…
Just kidding. That would be a different and potentially much more interesting film. Once the hazmats weld the door shut, we never see them again. From that point on, The Divide becomes a film about what happens when seven people are trapped in a limited space with no hope of escape. A cack-fisted allegory on power, control and the evil what men do, The Divide falls apart as the cast chew the scenery, shave their heads, smear themselves in makeup and start killing each other. There’s gore and rape aplenty, and absolutely no chance whatsoever of a happy ending.
For a bottle show to work (and apart from three short scenes, the whole film takes place in Biehn’s basement) you have to give a damn about the characters. In The Divide, I simply don’t care about them. They’re so sketchily drawn that I can’t even remember any of their names. The street thugs are just bullies. The husband is a weakling. The wife is, I dunno. Pretty? They’re just pieces shunted around a game board. Courtney B. Vance, who deserves much better, is the generic token horror movie black guy to such an extent that he’s killed first.
I keep coming back in my mind to the hazmats, because they seem to have been ported in from a different movie. When they’re around, things are exciting and there’s a sense of genuine threat. There are stakes. There are questions. Who are they? Where have they come from? What do they want with the kids? Why do they seem to be symbiotically bonded to their suits? The Divide answers none of these. As far as I can tell, the only reason they’re in the film is to provide a gun and a hazmat suit for the wife/girl character to use in the end to get out of the basement. Oh yeah, there’s a way out. It’s not exactly hard to guess what it is.
In some ways, I feel like I’ve been sold false goods. The back cover copy makes a big deal out of the hazmats, and yet they’re in the movie for twenty minutes max. The rest is a slow slide into despair, degradation and utter hopelessness. Well, that’s the way I felt after watching it.
I struggle to find anything good to say about The Divide. I have to credit the cast for the way they totally commit to the nastiness. Special kudos goes to Michael Eklund going the full crazy in a dress and shaky eyeliner. Rosanna Arquette always slides into lunacy with conviction. And of course, there’s the 20 minutes with the hazmats, which is the only point where the film wakes up. But for the most part, lumpen dialogue, poor to non-existent characterisation and unconvincing gore make for a frankly wasted evening in.
Was THE DIVIDE worth unwrapping?
However, if you’d like a chance to judge for yourself, my copy is up for grabs. Just answer this simple question:
Milo Ventimiglia made his name in which TV series?
Answers in the comments. Please, someone take this crap off my hands.
UPDATE: WE HAVE A WINNER!
Congrats to Rich Betts. Your copy of The Divide will be winging its way to you posthaste. May it bring you more pleasure than it did me.