Anyone who’s ever been in a car accident knows about the moment of inevitability: that instant, right before the impact, when you realize that this is actually happening, that the SUV skidding towards you isn’t going to stop at the last moment but really is going to plow right into you—and that you can’t do a thing about it. It’s a terrible feeling; that vulnerability, that lack of control, being at the mercy of forces so much bigger than yourself.
A similar feeling tends to descend on me, for one, when I encounter a truly awful film. At first, as it sets up its premise and introduces its characters, I’m forgiving almost to a fault. Perhaps they mean to be vague, I think to myself. Perhaps that character is intentionally one-dimensional; perhaps they’ll come back to that non sequitur later. But finally, after an hour or so, when it becomes clear that what I’m watching isn’t an artfully disassembled film but a maelstrom of half-formed ideas that no one took the time to think through, I can no longer deny the moviegoer’s own moment of inevitability. This is absolute crap, I think to myself, and there’s no two ways about it.
Sadly, this is the conclusion I came to about the new post-apocalyptic thriller “The Divide,” which opens in limited release on January 13. Directed by the dubiously talented Xavier Gens (“Frontier(s),” “Hitman”), the film follows a disparate group of tenants who find shelter in their New York City apartment building’s basement during an unspecified nuclear disaster. As the motley group assembles underground the building superintendent, Mickey (Michael Biehn), becomes its de facto leader. This doesn’t bode well; an obvious nut obsessed with 9/11, Mickey seems like the last person who should be in charge—that is, until another survivor (Milo Ventimiglia) takes over and things go from bad to worse. Finally, the erstwhile protagonist, Eva (Lauren German, the poor man’s Milla Jovovich) manages to escape, but finds her prospects outside the survivors’ dungeon no better than they were inside it.
“The Divide” seems to be attempting to make some sort of grand statement about the evils that man will do to man when the chips are down, especially in light of such post-9/11 concerns as torture and the dichotomy between personal freedom and national security. As the group’s dynamics shift, all the characters are subjected to some form of torture (for Rosanna Arquette, it may be having this film on her resume) and the audience is forced to endure a succession of senseless vignettes highlighting sexual violence, sadism, dismemberment and a grab bag of other forms of degradation. However, this breakdown of civilization is rendered without wit, subtlety or imagination; it’s what would happen if Eli Roth were somehow allowed to direct a production of “No Exit.” In short, it’s awful.
What the film is driving at is never clear; a plotline early on involving a massive government conspiracy is abandoned precipitously, without explanation, and the characters’ various motivations are similarly muddled. All in all, “The Divide” is a confused mess with little to offer, except to audience members anxious to spend almost two hours trapped in a dark, unpleasant place with a bunch of bloodthirsty lunatics. And, really, those people could just ride the subway for the evening and save themselves $10.