Showing how low they can go
By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, Jan 20, 2012
Set in the squalid, claustrophobic confines of a New York apartment building's basement during the aftermath of an apparent nuclear attack, "The Divide" is a nasty bit of storytelling.
Centering on the predictably motley assortment of nine survivors who have barricaded themselves behind a steel door, the tale quickly degenerates from a dramatically promising clash of personalities under pressure to a gratuitous display of rape, murder, torture, dismemberment, madness, ugly misogyny, naked racism and yelling.
This might be fine - well, maybe not fine, but something approaching tolerable - if only the nastiness served some purpose larger than the shopworn point about man's inhumanity to man. As it is, "The Divide" is simply noxious for noxiousness's sake. French director Xavier Gens and writers Karl Mueller and Eron Sheean almost seem to take a kind of perverse pride in seeing how far they can go.
It's cynicism, not as art but as athletic competition.
Almost immediately upon the sound of the door clanging shut, it becomes clear that the alpha dog among the survivors is a man named Mickey (Michael Biehn), the building's bigoted, foulmouthed super and head cheerleader for Team Cynicism. Mickey has soon alienated everyone, bossing the others around when he isn't threatening them with an axe, and rationing what little food and water he hasn't hoarded for himself. Inevitably, rival factions are formed, and the balance of power shifts violently, from Mickey to Josh (Milo Ventimiglia), who goes from sympathetic team player to deranged, radiation-poisoned gang leader in a matter of days.
The other characters are mostly stock types, though Rosanna Arquette is especially embarrassing as a mother driven insane - and into de facto prostitution - when, out of the blue, a team of hazmat-suited soldiers bust down the door and abduct her daughter (Abbey Thickson).
Unfortunately, that unexpectedly hopeful plot thread - what, you mean there's still life aboveground? - goes absolutely nowhere. For a second, it looks as though "The Divide" might actually become an interesting sci-fi thriller or that we might learn something about who dropped the bomb, and why, and what's going on up top. But writers Mueller and Sheean can't seem to figure out what to do when presented with an actual plot twist. So they go back to debasing their actors.
They're very good at it.
But the cast members - who include TV veterans Courtney B. Vance and Lauren German - aren't the only ones abused. There's a scene in the film where a character has to wade through about four feet of raw sewage. You may feel, when all is said and done, as if you've been through the same ordeal.
Contains obscenity, sex and scenes of extreme brutality and torture, along with garden-variety action-adventure violence.