Mania Review: The Divide -

Mania Grade: C

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  • Starring: Michael Biehn, Lauren German, Milo Ventimiglia, Courtney B. Vance, and Michael Eklund
  • Written by: Karl Mueller and Eron Sheean
  • Directed by: Xavier Gens
  • Studio: Anchor Bay Entertainment
  • Rating: Unrated
  • Run Time: 121 minutes
  • Series:

Mania Review: The Divide

The end of the world as we know it.

By Rob Vaux     January 13, 2012

 Can one describe a film as a nihilistic wallow in human depravity and still recommend it? That’s the question The Divide offers to viewers, and judging by the scathing early criticisms, most of them have responded with a resounding “no.” This is not a film one enjoys in the traditional sense, nor does it offer any hope for the better angels of our nature. We see human beings at their absolute worst, and we have nowhere to run from their behavior. To say the least, that’s not everyone’s cup of tea.

And yet, the condemnations seemingly overlook how brutally effective it can be at times. It pulls no punches and takes no prisoners: looking the Gorgon in the face without so much as a single flinch. In the end, it proved too much for me, but I won’t deny the film its due just because it didn’t quite hit my wavelength. One certainly can’t fault it for not staying on message. The set up certainly gives ample warning of the carnage to follow. The bomb falls on Manhattan Island, and the residents of an anonymous apartment complex have to scramble to save their lives. A small number force their way into the basement, where the building’s super (Michael Biehn) has set up a surprisingly effective shelter. They can’t go outside because of the radioactivity, and the limited supplies only last for so long. Soon enough, we fall into Lord of the Flies territory, as morality falls away and the group breaks into homicidal factions to see who’s left standing.

Director Xavier Gens revels in the depths to which his characters will sink, as we skirt across sexual slavery, cannibalism and the way nominally decent people make them both sound perfectly rational. Only one figure – Lauren German’s quiet Eva – holds onto her humanity, as the remainder succumb to despairing insanity and tear each other apart just for kicks. Within that framework, however, Gens finds some rather intriguing role reversals, as supposed monsters turn out to be better than we initially thought and early heroes ultimately become threats to be destroyed. Considering that he limits his action to a single set – and that the film’s intensity comes largely from cast members bellowing at each other – the nuance on display comes as a big surprise.

Of course, in order to appreciate that, you have to distance yourself from the horrific behavior on display… which kind of defeats the whole purpose of the exercise. The Divide has no faith in our species, and wants us to share that belief in the most intimate terms. Critics assume we wouldn’t act this way when the chips are down, but when you miss a few meals and have nowhere else to go, it’s not hard to turn needling irritation into sociopathic hatred. The Divide never sugar-coats that truth, and as we sink deeper and deeper into depravity, we ask ourselves whether we would behave any better in the same circumstances.

Thus kind of brick-to-the-face filmmaking makes for tough viewing, but “unpleasant” isn’t the same thing as “incompetent” and I have to give props for The Divide’s sheer unflinching nerve. Ironically, its biggest problems lie more in certain lingering plot threads than its deliberately downbeat tone. A wonderful twist in the first act promises great things, as men in HAZMAT suits break into the bunker and spirit away the lone child in the group before opening fire on the remainder. It throws a fascinating wrinkle into the mix and for a time, The Divide seems to concentrate fully on who they are and what their agenda is. Sadly, Gens abandons the concept about forty minutes in and never picks it up again, leaving frustratingly unanswered questions in its wake. They serve no function in the larger context – nothing that couldn’t be fixed with a revised prop invoice and a few dropped characters – and beyond paving the way for a thoroughly unlikely sequel, might just as well have come from a different movie.

That sloppiness compounds the already difficult material and turns The Divide into a lost opportunity rather than the pitch-black meditation it clearly wants to be.  It ultimately fails on its own terms… though admittedly not before giving it one hell of a run. The self-righteous condemnation currently raining down upon it misses the point; one cannot condemn an apple just because it isn’t an orange. A pity that it couldn’t focus its material more pointedly, or deliver is vision with something other than brass balls in its corner. 


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jedibanner 1/13/2012 5:39:37 AM

I like these types of movies because it shows how people are, not how people ''should'' be and usually in those ''end of the world'' type of movies, human nature truly comes out.

Will still look into it.

Roqueja 1/13/2012 6:23:10 AM

Thank you for a great review!

I am a fan of how The Road and The Book of Eli were done, so this piqued my interest.  It will find itself on my rental list due to the unflinching storytelling of human nature, despite the negative aspects.

Wyldstaar 1/13/2012 7:14:37 AM

 My curiosity is definitely piqued. 

I can't help but wonder if the dropped plot thread with the child was done not as a potential sequel, but as a choice for the characters.  They can either leave the shelter they have and discover who the hazmat suited men are, or remain in the relative safety they already have, such as it is.  In a movie, it is traditional to solve the mystery, of course.  Making the decision not to do so in the face of an unknown danger which may be even worse than the one the characters already face sounds like something this filmmaker would go with.

Humans are a very complicated species.  On the whole, we thrive on conflict, but when looked at in isolated situations like this one, that need to thrive can easily take a turn for the nasty.  Most people don't like to be told the truth, especially if they worry that they might not live up to their own standards.  I've personally witnessed a dozen people stand by and do nothing while a woman was assaulted in front of them.  Until that day, I'm sure every one of them believed that in such a situation, they would step up and take decisive action.  Instead, they discovered they were not willing to stick their necks out. You never really know who you are until you are forced into such a situation. I discovered that I do live up to my own standards, but even then, I went out of my way to make those others feel bad, telling them they should feel ashamed of themselves.  Looking back, I don't believe that was the right thing to do.  


mellowdoux 1/13/2012 1:23:12 PM

 Wyldstaar: Thank you for the best, most interesting and intelligent post I've ever read on the Mania boards.



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