Friday, 13 April 2012

Review : The Divide (2011)


Xavier Gens

A strong opening is a tradition in horror. It sets the tone, get the audience's hearts pumping, and should give a good taste of what lies ahead. Xavier Gans' punishing end-of-the-world shocker,THE DIVIDE, has a very strong opening.

Our first stark images show the total destruction of New York, as the nukes finally fall and civilization as we know it bites the radioactive dust. We only catch a fleeting glimpse of the destruction taking place before we're thrust right along with our characters into the only damn place that may be in any way safe...the basement of their apartment building. It's either a dark dead-end, or immediate melting of the face, and the face melting may turn out to be a better option. The doors are shut and sealed with tape to keep the transparent radiation outside, (good luck with that), and our small band of shell-shocked everyday New Yorkers are left alone, literally, at a dead-end. As we all know, if you put a group of relatively civilized folk in a claustrophobic, end-times scenario with little food and water, and practically no hope for survival, the wild things will roar. Human decency becomes cheap, power becomes survival, sanity crumbles, and 'Gods chosen species' revert back to their true, base form. Let the good times roll....

I'm a sucker for a good survival horror. Especially one which pushes our 'heroes' against the wall, with no room to catch breath. Give me a claustrophobic setting within a world gone mad just outside our field of vision, and an ever growing sense of dread and despair, and then throw in some combustive personalities in a fight for life, and I'm in. NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, THE LORD OF THE FLIES, THE MIST and THE WALKING DEAD immediately spring to mind as prime examples of the subject handled with craft, as peoples true natures crawl to the surface and our social behaviors are cast aside, replaced by insanity and an animalistic instinct to survive at all costs. Human beings will always be the greatest source of horror in our world, and when a film/novel is realized with intelligence, fearlessness and a will to shine a spotlight on the darkness of the human soul, it makes for fascinating, if depressing, entertainment. THE DIVIDE is a worthy look at the theme. A well told, solidly paced dip into some suitably grim waters, that has as much disdain for the human race as any of the above mentioned.

Director, Xavier Gans, (much respected for his brilliantly nihilistic FRONTIERS), throws us headlong into the shit, pitching us into a grimy, hopeless hell from which death seems like a mighty tasty prospect. Along with writers, Karl Mueller and Eron Sheean, Gans has put together a bleak, unforgiving look at our less admirable qualities as a species. The horror of the initial imagery deftly sets the scene, and remains in the audiences mind throughout the whole nightmare. And as there is absolutely no time for our characters to get acquainted before the worlds heart stops beating, neither is there time for us to find relate-able personality types, or gain any perception of who will become our heroes and/or villains.

The cast are all excellent in their respective roles. The mighty Micheal Beihn steals the show as the recently annihilated apartment complex's resident janitor, who lives out of the buildings basement and has been awaiting the coming apocalypse since, I believe, 9/11. His performance is the most flashy in the film, but its also the most engaging. The rest of the cast covers all bases. We have a mother and daughter, a good-looking young couple on the verge of breaking up, due, (I assume), to the males lack of testicular fortitude, a security guard who has zero tolerance for racism, and last but not least, a couple of New York punks and the alpha males more sensitive half brother. There are some fearless performances here, not least, Milo Vernimiglia, who certainly isn't afraid to embrace his dark half, or transform his appearance, (and his public image), for the sake of story. His role here is a vital one, and is far, far removed from his HEROES persona. As his sidekick, Micheal Eklund knocks it out the park as a complex, tormented soul who's behavior becomes increasingly bizarre and conflicted as the severity of the situation takes hold. Its an ensemble piece wherein every character has their 'moment' and each has an effect on the group dynamic, and the gradual devolution of social mores and decency.

There are no real good guys or bad guys here, only victims of horrific circumstance, who react in different ways. Both nobility and depravity surface time and again, often within the same characters actions, as we watch them struggle with their moral compass and the disintegration of their psyche's. The result is an overwhelmingly negative view of the human race and its weakness'. Much like THE ROAD, this is a dark, despairing look at what happens when normal people are pushed to the limits. THE DIVIDE is cut from the same cloth, and while it lacks the unrelenting emotional impact of that movie, it stands it ground, and is as nihilistic as any horror fan could hope for.

As filthy, grimy and stomach churning as the groups hellish sanctuary becomes, the film is beautifully shot. Gans' eye for visual impact that he displayed so well in FRONTIERS is present and correct. The film looks fantastic, with shadow and light constantly warring within the claustrophobic setting, much as they war within the characters themselves. Long smooth camera shots help maintain a sense of urgency and add space to a very confined locale. The film's closing shots are every bit as powerful as its opening ones, and the film boasts an excellent, emotionally resonant score that brings adds pathos to the ugliness on display, accentuating the sense of tragedy and complimenting the sombre, hopeless tone the film so effectively evokes.

While its a bleak and brutal movie, THE DIVIDE is surprisingly restrained when it comes to displaying the violence. We see very little, and while it helps affirm the film as more than simply a run-of-the-mill shocker, it could have benefited from just a little more gore to hit home the horror elements. The film also seems to be selective on which characters are physically effected by the radiation, starvation and thirst. The pretty girl stays pretty during the whole show, while the less eye-friendly cast members are visibly far more ravaged by the grit and shit as the story progresses. These are small complaints though, and don't really diminish the overall atmosphere of decay and despair that Gans is aiming for.

Overall, THE DIVIDE will please fans of the theme. It may be too dark for some palettes, but its a very worthwhile movie that takes itself and its subject seriously, while never coming off as being overly self-important. It's another striking work for Gans; a tightly woven tale that looks at the darker side of our nature. Tense, nihilistic, brutal and often demented. This one is well worth catching for those who aren't turned off by its themes.

7 Blunt Axes out of 10

1 comment:

  1. Xavier Gans was the first French Director to introduce to me the French Extremist Horrors after watching Frontier(S), which is also my first French horror. Now, I'm yearning to see this A LOT.