Anchor Bay // 2011 // 122 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // May 1st, 2012
The lucky ones died in the blast.
The Divide starts with a quite literal bang. The movie opens ominously, with nuclear missiles raining down on New York City. As the city crashes down upon itself, we witness the devolution of humanity within a microcosm of society. The sheer meanness of The Divide will definitely polarize viewers, but this is hard-edged science fiction like I haven't seen in a while, and I like it.
After those missiles strike, we enter an apartment building on the outside edge of the blast and survivors are scrambling down to the basement. There, they find Mickey (Michael Biehn, The Abyss), the building superintendent and a real peach of a guy, who has stocked the place with goods for just this very reason. What he didn't intend, though, was a bunch of freeloaders coming in and eating it all. He can't well turn them out, so he reluctantly allows them in and seals the door shut. While Mickey seems like the biggest jackass alive, each of these people has a bit of darkness inside them. Soon, human nature gives way to primal urges and that darkness starts coming out in increasingly sadistic ways.
Although it's presented here unrated, think of The Divide as the kind of quality hard-R entertainment we used to get in the '80s. It's take-no-prisoners action that starts fast and doesn't slow down for a second. The basement is terribly confined and, from the first moments that they get down there, the tension is already building. Those early fights, though, don't hold a candle to the mayhem these characters wind up inflicting on each other. It's supremely bleak and nasty, but still strangely fun to watch.
Rarely has the corruption of humanity happened so quickly. Instead of people trying to help each other through the crisis, there is instant antagonism, not just from Mickey, but with everybody toward each other. Part of it is desperation, part of it is the radiation seeping in and, for some, it takes longer than others, but everybody eventually succumbs to the darkness. Some take to it more readily than others and those are the ones who make the mood and content so completely over the top.
Really, the best way to describe the tone of The Divide is that, with a couple of inconsequential changes, this story could have easily come from the Fallout universe. Most gaming fans should understand what I mean, but for readers who don't, just know that it's outrageous in its brutality and humor. It's no comedy, but there's a giddiness to it that's totally entertaining.
The story is extremely simple. One essential location, nine characters, and a nihilistic viewpoint is all director Xavier Gens (Hitman) needed to create an effective, tight thriller that works well on every level. The script was written by Karl Mueller and Eron Sheean but, according to the commentary on the disc, the action and dialog were mostly improvised. That, in itself, likely ranks this as one of the most intense shoots ever filmed, but it's really a huge credit to the skill and intensity of the cast. Now, nobody should ever doubt that Michael Biehn can stomp his way through action/sci-fi, but I don't know that a performance of his has been this nuts. The rest of the cast includes Laura German (Hostel: Part II), who eventually takes the lead in the film, Michael Eklund (Walk All Over Me) in a downright scary performance, and Rosanna Arquette (New York Stories), whose ability to throw her body and soul entirely into a role is taken to absurd heights here. Everybody in this movie is tops, though, and each deserves credit for making The Divide such a harrowing experience, for the viewers and, I'm sure, for themselves.
Gens does a tremendous job of staging the action and making it believable under the circumstances. The Divide is deeply negative in every way, but it's an excellent piece of work. It's exciting, intelligent, and sometimes even funny, in spite of the creatively ridiculous violent sex and torture that goes down. The fighting is fast paced, the practical effects look great, and the plot comes together really smoothly. When I saw the case for the film, I couldn't help but see the most generic sci-fi title on the shelf, but The Divide is anything but generic. It hits hard and hits often; if you want a hardcore apocalypse, this is your movie.
The Divide comes out from Anchor Bay in a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack that is pretty strong. The 2.35:1 1080p image has very good detail, but the overall look is a little murky. It's an intentionally bleak and gray palette, so it's likely intentional, but it doesn't make the most of the format. You can make out a ton of detail in that murkiness, so there's certainly nothing wrong with the transfer itself. The sound, however, is fantastic, one of the best 7.1 audio mixes I've ever heard. Unlike most that I've experienced, where the extra speakers are occupied with a wan double up of the normal surround channels, this mix is loud and strong every moment, almost to the point that it hurts. Between the music and crashes, it's total cacophony and it's intense. For what it's worth, the DVD is adequate, with decent picture and sound, although the audio aspect is diminished far more significantly than the image. The only extra feature on either is an audio commentary with the cast and crew. It's pretty entertaining because Biehn is foul-mouthed and funny, so it's definitely worth a listen.
Disaster movies usually spend their time showing you the effects of the nuclear blast or earthquake or whatever, forgetting almost entirely the toll such catastrophes can take on a survivor's humanity. The Divide shows flat out just how damaging such a thing can be. It's very graphic, very dark, and well worth watching.
Review content copyright © 2012 Daryl Loomis; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 7.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 122 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Unrated
* Official Site