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Things go from bad to worse for both the bedraggled characters and the audience in Xavier Gens’ grungy, post-apocalyptic thriller that uses the plight of a group of troubled survivors of a nuclear attack as a microcosm of the breakdown of civilization. Relentlessly unpleasant and nihilistic in its approach and execution, The Divide is best appreciated as a virtual instruction manual on how not to behave during a crisis. Theatrical prospects look appropriately bleak.
Set in the basement of a Manhattan building (why are NYC and LA always on the front lines?), the story concerns nine strangers who find themselves violently at odds as their outlook for survival looks increasingly grim. At first, the building’s superintendent (Michael Biehn), a 9/11 survivor who had both the foresight and paranoia to stock his boiler room like a bomb shelter, takes charge. But his macho authority dissipates as the rest of the stock characters eventually become unhinged.
Things go from bad to worse when a team of menacing Hazmat suit-wearing figures burst in and steal a hysterical mother’s (Rosanna Arquette) young daughter for unexplained reasons. To cope with her grief, the mother smears lipstick all over her face and begins having wanton sex with the two young thugs (Milo Ventimiglia, Michael Eklund) who have taken charge after a violent coup.
Ultimately leading to a climax featuring unrelieved brutality and stomach-churning filth — to say that a septic tank plays a major role here is an understatement — The Divide takes a painfully long time to get there. And while the actors deserve some credit for enduring what must have been highly unpleasant shooting conditions, that doesn’t excuse the unrestrained hamminess of their performances. Surely, such veterans as Vance and Arquette deserve better material, not to mention Biehn, who must be wistfully recalling the glory days of The Terminator and Aliens.
Opens: Jan. 13 (Anchor Bay Films)
Production: Instinctive Films, Preferred Content, Julijette, Ink Connection
Cast: Lauren German, Michael Biehn, Milo Ventimiglia, Courtney B. Vance, Ivan Gonzalez, Michael Eklund, Abbey Thickson, Ashton Holmes, Rosanna Arquette
Director: Xavier Gens
Screenwriters: Karl Mueller, Eron Sheean
Producers: Ross Dinerstein, Darryn Welch, Juliette Hagopian, Nathaniel Rollo
Executive producers: Jamie Carmichael, Michael Horn, Kevin Iwashina, Chris Ouwinga, Bobby Schwartz, Shail Shah
Director of photography: Laurent Bares
Editor: Carlo Rizzo
Production designer: Tony Noble
Costume designer: Mary Hyde-Kerr
Music: Jean-Peirre Taleb
Not rated, 121 minutes
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