The opening shot of The Divide, the latest post-apocalyptic thriller from Anchor Bay Films and director Xavier Gens, is a stark close-up on the eyes of a pretty girl named Eva as she stares out a window. Aided by the reflection of the glass, the audience sees what Eva sees: nuclear missiles descending upon the New York City skyline. The shot serves as a neat introduction that immediately lets the audience know it’s about to witness the end of the world through this girl’s eyes. Unfortunately, The Divide never delivers on the promise of that opening shot, descending instead into a directionless mishmash of characters devoid of motivation, missed casting opportunities and gratuitous torture porn.
After the initial nuclear blast, Eva (played by Hawaii Five-O‘s Lauren German) is rushed down to the basement of her high-rise apartment by her boyfriend Sam (Iván González). There, the couple receives sanctuary in a makeshift fallout shelter created by the building’s cantankerous maintenance man Mickey, played by Michael Biehn (Tombstone, The Terminator).
Once bolted inside, Eva, Sam and Mickey get to know the six others who will share their fate. Each of the requisite character types essential to post-apocalyptic storytelling are present and accounted for: single mom Marilyn, played by Rosanna Arquette (Pulp Fiction, Crash), frets over her 12-year-old daughter Wendy (Abbey Thickson); feuding brothers Josh and Adrien, played by Milo Ventimiglia (Heroes) and Ashton Holmes (Revenge); their friend Bobby (Michael Eklund); and the practical Delvin, played by Courtney B. Vance (Law and Order: Criminal Intent).
As the racist and domineering Mickey, Biehn is clearly having fun rationing food and issuing orders and threats to the eight survivors under his care. But when the sanctity of the bunker is disturbed by mechanized stormtroopers that wordlessly kidnap young Wendy while sealing the rest of the group into the basement shelter for all eternity, the action quickly devolves into a nonstop parade of brutal sexual torture and physical violence.
Logic issues plague the script from start to finish. Biehn’s character is revealed to be a firefighter who survives 9-11 only to be transformed into a paranoid survivalist. Gens and screenwriter Eron Sheean would have the audience believe that a former firefighter would build and stock a bomb shelter to effectively survive a nuclear winter and then neglect to include an actual fire extinguisher should any fires happen to break out near the climax of the film. No explanation is given as to who or what these mysterious kidnapping invaders are; consequently they feel like well-armed plot devices to seal the characters away and get rid of the 12-year-old so the sex and violence can begin.
Aside from Mickey’s backstory, Gens gives no context for what has happened to any of the survivors before their arrival at the bomb shelter. It’s impossible to tell if the disintegrating relationship between brothers Josh and Adrien is a result of something that happened before the nuclear attack or as a result of Josh’s steady slip into madness.
Casting is also an issue. As the sadistic Josh, Ventimiglia is a good actor working very hard against type, but he lacks the danger that’s effortless for Eklund (88 minutes, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus), his henchman and second-in-command. It’s hard to believe the infinitely more threatening Bobby would ever take orders from Josh, and Ventimiglia is not helped by the fact that his character’s swerve to the dark side has no motivation and comes completely out of left field.
Time passes in The Divide, but aside from the opening of many, many cans of beans, it’s impossible to tell how much because there’s a complete lack of modulation in tension. Characters arrive at the bomb shelter ready to kill one another, and the only time they ever work together is when they fight off the creepy invaders. There’s never a moment when these characters come together to try to survive the apocalypse.
Which brings us to the film’s physical violence. It’s one thing to profess that humans are animals and that the world is a very dark place, but The Divide does something more insidious. The scene in which Josh and Bobby cut off one of Mickey’s fingers isn’t nearly as upsetting as when the pair discovers that Marilyn has gotten her period. Crowing at her, telling her she stinks and insulting her appearance and age in front of the much younger Eva crosses a line. In fact, that scene feels less like an indictment of humanity and more like a warning to German and all the other ingenues: Don’t ovulate because it’s gross, and don’t get any older.
As an actress, Arquette has never shied away from edgy material. She has an impressive body of work and has aged like a goddamned champion, but watching her play this role, one can’t help but agree that there aren’t enough good roles for women over 40 — and maybe that is the real divide in Hollywood.
The Divide opens Friday in select theaters.
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