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Apr 24, 2012

Film Review: THE DIVIDE (2011): Xavier Gens, Lauren German

Lauren German, Michael Biehn, Rosanna Arquette, The Divide

The Divide (2011) Film Review, a movie directed by Xavier Gens and starring Lauren German, Ashton Holmes, Michael Biehn, Milo Ventimiglia, Rosanna Arquette, Peter StormareJennifer BlancIvan Gonzalez, Abbey Thickson, Jennifer Blanc, and Michael Eklund.

The first act and the last ten minutes of The Divide are great chapters in an end-of-the-world film. The middle section of the film is a disaster within this disaster film, stretched out for far too long with no narrative pay off. The viewer sits and watches people sitting, eating, and waiting.

Because of the catastrophic setup of the film, the viewer, like the characters, are always waiting for one thing: rescue. A film involving trapped people invariably leads to two scenarios: the people marshal their own abilities and rescue themselves (Alive) or they make it possible for them to be found and rescued by others. The latter happens in The Divide and it leads to the most intriguing and fascinating moments in the film. What is created during these scenes is never duplicated anywhere else in the film, not even within the confines of its futile, misanthropic ending.

The aforementioned compelling moment leads The Divide‘s storyline to its biggest missed opportunity. When the men in white begin cutting through the basement door, the tension in the room and in the film slowly begins building. When the cutting is complete, the tension and anticipation continues its  assent, bolstered by the cautious and untrusting movements of some of the rescuees. During and after the rescue/attack, no reason is ever given as to why Marilyn (Rosanna Arquette)’s daughter Wendi (Abbey Thickson) was taken but it was done in glorious fashion.

The fact that “the men in white” do not explain or say anything in this moment is the scene’s strength. The viewer is forced to fill in gaps from the visuals and the rescuees have to from “the men in white”‘s actions. The viewer is instantly intrigued by this Chemical-suited kidnappers, what they represent, and more importantly, the condition of the outside world. What’s happened that “the men in white” come into the basement armed and equipped the way they do?

The investigation by Josh (Milo Ventimiglia) to answer some of these questions only raises more questions and the possibility of a good premise being elevated into a great film out of ingenious story-telling and scripting.

That does not happen and as I said before, it was a monumental missed opportunity by director Xavier Gens and screen writers Karl Mueller and Eron Sheean. The writers were taking the viewer somewhere with Josh, the viewer was with him as he made his discoveries in the lab, the viewer’s own Neverending Story playing out before their eyes. Gens had the viewer in the palm of his hand: they were engaged and could not wait to see the next revelation the director had in store for them. Then Gens retreats from this other world (e.g. mutli-racial scientists, experiments, intubated, hairless children), as Josh retreats back to the basement door, back to solitude and a ordinary movie that slows and meanders into a quasi-character study on the effects of isolation (and prolonged radiation exposure) on a group of divergent people (in other words, the situation and concept this film derives its name from).

This ineffectual story direction change is very similar to the one perpetrated in Robert RodriguezFrom Dusk Till Dawn: the viewer wishes the film continued on during its second half as it had in its first half instead of becoming something completely different, lackluster, and unsatisfying.

It is at this point in The Divide that characters and relationships are explored and the film runs itself into the ground. Many scenes in the second and third act exist past their useful point. Some feel like aberrations that should not even be there as they slow down the pace of the film as well.

The only good plot point in this section of the film is the pregnant attraction between Eva (Lauren German) and Adrien (Ashton Holmes). Its a real attraction built on simple conversation, interactions, and extraordinary circumstances: their attraction would never have been ignited if they were not forced into close proximity for so long. Nevertheless, its there, it builds, and its genuine.

What was surreal in The Divide and almost comical was how certain characters degenerated in the second and third acts of the film. When Bobby (Michael Eklund) got his head shaved, he knew that he was shedding more than just his hair, he was losing his last connection to who and what he was. It was because of this that the tears flowed as pieces of his humanity floated and fell to the floor.

As Joss and Bobby become more monstrous on the outside, so do their actions towards the other inhabitants of the building basement, culminating in a hackneyed confrontation and the second best scene in the film: Eva becomes like Mickey (Michael Biehn) and Mickey becomes like Eva e.g. he demonstrates his regained humanity. Eva also does something else: through her selfish, self-preserving act she earns Mickey’s respect, much like Elizabeth Swann did from Jack Sparrow when she made an almost congruous decision at the end of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.

The final scene and moment in The Divide is full of great CGI and hopelessness (if Eva comes out of the suit to eat, drink, or defecate, she will be exposed to unspecified amounts of radiation), a fitting ending to the film and one better than it deserves after making the viewer sit through the majority of the second act and the third act. What was humorous about this film is that the people trapped in the basement where never safe from radiation exposure (as was evident) and were never really trapped, even after the basement door was sealed shut. Eva’s escape proved that. Mickey knew they weren’t trapped (or the writers made him ignorant of this basic fact about the place he lived and defecated in) and everybody else going to the bathroom had to know as well yet no one every tried to escape until then. Why? Writers Karl Mueller and Eron Sheean needed to keep their characters right where they were for the story they wanted to tell. Unfortunately for the viewer and the film, Karl Mueller and Eron Sheean didn’t see the story that they could have told.

Rating: 4/10