‘To survive the end of the world, you must first survive each other.’
That is the plot synopsis for the latest film from director Xavier Gens, the horror/thriller known as The Divide. Starring a great cast, The Divide saw its world premiere at this year’s SXSW Film Festival, only to become one of the most polarizing features that this year’s slate has to offer. A hyper dark piece of horror filmmaking, The Divide may not work for everyone, but is without a doubt one of the more interesting horror films, conceptually, in quite some time.
The Divide has a relatively simple premise. After the world succumbs to a nuclear war, a group of survivors, locked in a hotel basement, must learn to cope with not only the end of the world as they knew it, but also the cabin fever that begins to set in. With one of the best cold opens in recent film memory, The Divide is a pitch black look at the corruption of man, and how we are truly our own worst enemies, even in the face of worldwide destruction.
Marking its premiere at this year’s SXSW Film Festival, the film has become, and justly so, relatively polarizing. A weird allegory for the corruption of man in the face of lax morals, The Divide is far and away one of the bleakest pieces of narrative filmmaking in quite some time. Forcing the viewer to feel as though he or she would feel right at home bathing in a tub full of acid post-screening, Gens also forces the viewer to look into the depths of human nature, through the guise of a neo-religious allegory.
And for that, Gens is the film’s biggest star.
Visually relatively earth toned, The Divide offers very little in the way of warm or welcoming tones and hues, instead proclaiming its allegiance with the most dreary of grays, browns, and reds, offering a viscerally exciting and effecting palette to color the film with. Gens is so assured behind the camera here, that it only adds to the overall effectiveness of the piece, one that doesn’t necessarily need to be any more effective than it inherently is. Gens has great skill as a craftsman, and the film is the manifestation of those very skills. Lots of interesting close ups; almost Kubrickian in a way, and some great tracking shots, The Divide may be a shocking piece of filmmaking, but it’s also one that can hold its own as a piece of visual art.
Penned Karl Mueller and Eron Sheean, The Divide’s screenplay is also quite compelling. Not one to mince words, a lot of the film comes off as a tad bit too on the nose, but there are also many interesting tiny character beats and relationship moments, that really add to the overall enjoyment of the film, if enjoyment is even a possible emotion when dealing with this film.
It’s also nice to have a cast like this spouting your words.
Led by Michael Biehn, the film’s cast gives routinely great performances. Biehn is a hoot to watch on screen, as he is not only chewing the scenery, but for much of the film, Gens slyly put a cigar in the mouth of his lead, to give him something else to absolutely dig into. Rosanna Arquette is shockingly good here as a mother stuck with the group, and whose arc may be one of the most haunting and powerful ones throughout the film. Milo Ventimiglia is great here, as is Lauren German, the film’s main female lead. No more than the film’s version of an angel, German’s Eva is the ‘watcher’ of the team, observing day to day habits instead of doing something slightly different, and ultimately the most rewarding character to watch throughout the film. Michael Eklund gives a great performance, one that is also arguably the film’s most polarizing. The performance itself is a bit campy, if not wholly charismatic, but it’s what the character says thematically that makes it as creepy as it seems to be. Finally, the film is rounded out by Courtney B. Vance, Ivan Gonzalez and Ashton Holmes, all three of which give great, if not book-ended here by two slightly one note turns, making this a cast that’s relatively solid from top to bottom.
However, this film is indeed not for everyone. Gens asks so very much of his audience, and will likely not get half of that from most. It’s a sadistic and brutal piece of filmmaking, that as an allegory for the corruption of man, is one of the most interesting horror films around. Names like Gens and James Wan prove here that while horror may not be what it once was, it’s not dead. And if we keep getting great films like The Divide, we are in for a sadistically twisted treat, unlike anything we’ve seen in quite some time. Not for everyone, those who give it a shot, and truly allow him or herself to get lost in this admittedly stark and dark world, will fall heads over heels for it.