I think it’s safe to say that if you want a nice, jolly couple of hours, The Divide probably isn’t the best movie to watch. It’s dark, relentlessly pessimistic, often unpleasant and more than a little depressing. It’s certainly not completely without merit, but it ain’t fun.
In the great, no fuss opening, a nuclear explosion is tearing through New York City and a group of random people race for the safety of a basement/slash bomb shelter. The owner of the basement, Mickey (Michael Biehn), doesn’t want them down there, but with radiation swirling above, he doesn’t have much choice.
The survivors don’t know what to do or how they’re going to get through this, and soon start bickering. Things get even more desperate after men in hazmat suits invade and take away the only child amongst the group, leaving the rest behind and welding them in. As the days pass and with radiation slowly leaking in, everything begins to go rather Lord Of The Flies, with people losing their minds, factions developing and even the best of people starting to do things they never thought they would. In the quest for power and survival, the situation becomes ever more dangerous and degraded, with the threat of rape and violence growing ever greater as all the trapping of civilised behaviour disappear.
The Divide is definitely not a movie that takes a positive view of human nature. While it’s very dark and some of the scenes are likely to induce a wince or two, the film’s problem isn’t where it ends up, but where it comes from. Things could undoubtedly go very Lord Of The Flies in such a predicament, but the movie spends very little time setting the people up before everyone starts turning on one another. It means that when everything quickly falls apart it doesn’t feel psychologically satisfying as it hasn’t taken us on the journey to get there.
By not giving us a genuine sense of how and/or why these people can turn utterly depraved, it results in a movie that will be fine for those whose view of human nature is already pretty pessimistic– and who just assume everyone’s an asshole underneath a civilised exterior – but will feel unpleasant for the sake of unpleasantness to many others. It would have helped if we got a proper sense of how much time is passing, but we don’t really get that either.
The film’s red herrings are likely to drive some people nuts too. The opening scene of the city exploding is purely to get the people in the basement – which is the only thing the movie is interested in. However when hazmat suited strangers turn up, it seems like the film is opening up and starting to question what’s going on outside the claustrophobic bunker, especially when Josh (Milo Ventimiglia) discovers a bizarre lab just outside the basement. However this turns out to be nothing more than a rouse, seemingly only included to play with those expecting a more typical horror-thriller set-up and further unsettle the inhabitants.
It’s a shame the early part of the movie doesn’t really work and largely just serves to confuse what the film is trying to do and muddy where the characters are starting out from, because while The Divide gets incredibly dark, the film does a lot of good stuff in the second half. However due to the lack of satisfying set-up, it still doesn’t quite work. That said, it certainly provokes a reaction, which is a lot more than most films manage, and there are some decent performances (along with a couple of slightly dodgy ones). Heroes star Milo Ventimiglia in particular certainly sheds his good guy image with an intensely unhinged performance.
Overall Verdict: If you’re going to present such a nihilistic view of humanity, you need to provide the set-up for that, rather than just assuming we’ll all agree. And that’s where the provocative The Divide will, well, divide audiences.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac