In almost every post-apocalyptic story the hero usually stumbles upon a group of horrific survivors that demonstrate just how low humanity can go. The Divide is that group's origin story. After seeing this film, I needed to take a shower.
Xavier Gens's (The Frontiers) film will not sit well with you. It shouldn't sit well with you. In fact if you make it through Gen's film without flinching, we can't be friends anymore because something is horribly wrong with you. What starts out as your classic post-apocalypse survival story, ends in horror. Filthy, disgusting, shower-crying horror. And I really loved it.
Granted, it took me a few hours to come to terms with the raw brutality I witnessed on screen, but after the disgust subsided, the awe sunk in. But let me state now that I'm not going to spoil any of the big screen moments or reveals, because this movie is better watched unspoiled.
Nine strangers are trapped in a bomb shelter after NYC is apparently blown to bits. Most of the film takes place inside the dusty basement owned by the exceptionally grizzled building superintendent, Michael Biehn. This shell-shocked 9/11 victim begrudgingly cares for the collection of strangers (including Milo Ventimiglia and Rosanna Arquette). Terrified by Biehn's rants about radiation poisoning and mutation, they remain trapped underground. By Biehn and his axe, by their own fear, (and later on) by an unknown menace on the other side of the door. Soon enough the survivors are at each other's throats.
As the minutes tick by days become weeks, weeks become months, time starts to blur causing the audience to get just as confused and lost as the survivors. It's almost impossible to tell just how long everyone has been trapped in this bomb shelter (there's no daylight to indicate time or clocks). The characters start to lose their sanity. Little grievances spark massive fights and soon enough, we're going full-blown Lord of the Flies, only with more sexual assault, dirt and lunacy.
Let me stress the dirt part again. The characters and sets were absolutely caked in dust, blood and muck. There's no water to waste, so if you get in a fight you'll be picking blood out of your hair for days.
But at its heart The Divide isn't about survivalists skills, it's a bleak character study about the darkness inside everyone. Who has a god complex, who has a blood fetish, how will soul crushing boredom and sadness change your moral fiber? Wars are waged in this tiny bomb shelter. Spoils are awarded to the victor, and the inhabitants conform to the maddening whims of the reigning party. And you're front and center for the horrific transformation from New York City tenants to the disgusting folk that crawled out from under Cormac McCarthy's The Road.
What's truly interesting about The Divide was how much of it was crafted on set. By allowing his actors to improvise the depths of their characters depravity, Gen managed to bottle an unhinged and desperate tension. The whole thing could have turned into an character study of an over-indulgent actor, but everyone was on point. The further we fell into this unleashed madness and cruelty the more unnerved the audience became. Even the simplest of activities would set you on edge. In one scene a character simply spits out an apricot — just spits it out onto the floor — and I can safely say this action is burned in my brain forever. I was so driven into ball of catatonic horror that even the act of apricot spitting was horrifying.
So yes, there's a method to this madness and the result is some of the best on screen performances to date from Ventimiglia and his wicked cohort Bobby, played by Michael Eklund (someone we're betting won't be unknown after this film starts circulating).
To be fair, it does rocket to crazy town pretty fast. As I mentioned before you lose track of time so who knows how long it takes for the group to fall. But there are a few times where things go so horribly wrong it feels just a wee bit forced. One character's death scene was a bit of a head scratcher and some of the later actions once everything has officially gone to hell makes little sense, but for the most part, it was highly entertaining just watching the madness infect the group.
Do not go see this film if you're uncomfortable with violence, nudity, sex, dirt, scabs, infected retinas, bodies, fecal matter... the list goes on. But do go see this film if you're curious to watch a pack of actors morph into rapist Gollum. It may be disgusting, but it's a good kind of gross that only comes around so often.
You can still catch a screening at SXSW, but after that you'll have to check the festival circuit. There's no official release date yet.