Saturday, 7 July 2012

The Divide (2011) - movie review...

What's it about?
A brutal post-apocalyptic thriller in which a group of survivors hide in the shelter beneath their building, and begin to succumb to the pressures and psychosis of the situation.
Who would I recognise in it?
Michael Biehn, Lauren German, Milo Ventimiglia, Ashton Holmes, Rosanna Arquette.
From the director of Frontiers (which I haven't seen), and Hitman (which I saw, and thought was thoroughly "meh" at best), didn't instill a huge amount of confidence in me, but after watching the gritty trailer - and, much to my excitement, discovering that Michael Biehn was in this flick - I figured I'd give it a punt on the basis of those two elements in its favour.

Launching with the bombs already being unleashed upon the city of New York, it's clear from the get-go that the film is in an awful hurry to get somewhere - something that doesn't particularly work in the film's favour when, a quarter of an hour in, a bunch of hazmat-suited, gun-toting goons bust in, kidnap the only child in the group, and take her ... an action that is explained with barely a shred of reason, even during a brief excursion outside of the shelter's door minutes later. It makes for a curious screenwriting decision which ultimately proves more of a distraction, than the haunting mystery writers Karl Mueller and Eron Sheean were probably intending it to be.

With that distraction aside however, the film is able to get stuck into the meat - the story of how these everyday people descend into violent madness within the confines of this bomb shelter. This is both the strongest and weakest part of the movie - the scant characterisation and back stories afforded to the cast of characters is at worst nearly non-existent, but at best it provides Michael Biehn as Mickey the building manager, to really sink his teeth into a gently drawn character. Mickey was once a fireman, but the horrors of 9/11 changed him forever into a man who is slowly killing himself after losing not only his men, but his family - these discoveries are made with a pleasing sense of subtlety that gels perfectly with Biehn's powerful performance that is absolutely the most distinct highlight of the entire flick; the man deserves many more meaty roles such as this.

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Lauren German's Eva on the other hand has just as much to do, but far less characterisation, which keeps us at a frustrating distance from her, and indeed her fiance Sam. Similarly, Rosanna Arquette gets plenty of squalor to play against, but her backstory is practically nonexistent. Furthermore, in the case of Ashton Holmes' Adrien, or Courtney B. Vance's Delvin, we get scant characterisation or their disappearances from the plot for curiously long times - the latter of which happens to Biehn's character for a frustrating length of time as the pressure cooker really starts to boil over.

This all said, the disintegration into abject horror as experienced by Ventimiglia's Josh and Michael Eklund's Bobby, proves a genuinely creepy exploration of how extreme situations can bring out the most extreme elements of people's characters: how minds can be warped, allegiances disturbed, and some actions can never be retreated from. This all becomes a balancing act of impressive character work for some, with scant attention for others, as well as some truly frustrating moments that will have you yelling at the screen for someone to do what you'd do ... but then again, perhaps this was the intention all along - to elicit a passionate response. It's certainly a good thing that this classic set-up (disparate characters trapped in a confined space under extreme circumstances) can work wonders to help plaster over evident cracks well enough to see you through to the chilling, emotionally scored climax.

Ultimately the flick is well worth seeing. While it lacks the soul and deep characterisation of The Road (another gut-wrenching post-apocalyptic film), there's certainly plenty of meat on many (if, unfortunately, not all) of the bones laid bare here - fans of Michael Biehn will be very pleased indeed (despite his character's curious absence during a crucial segment of the movie), and fans of apocalyptic horrors will also be presented with a deliciously dark journey into mankind's bleakest hour. The weak points may be rather evident, and a times distracting, but the strong points make up for them - it could have been a knock-out punch of a flick, but it can't quite muster the finer motions of achieving that ... and yet when all-is-said-and-done, it satisfies. Unfortunately at times it's merely alright, but at other times its very good indeed.

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