If there is one thing watching many movies has taught me is that it is extremely hard to keep the tension at a high level. I think you can get the optimal amount of consistent tension when you keep your movie at about eighty to eighty-five minutes. Any longer than that and you are going to need to flesh out your story and find other ways to invest your audience. Xavier Gens’ new thriller The Divide proves my point beautifully.
In the post-apocalyptic thriller The Divide we see a city being blown to bits by nuclear weapons. The inhabitants of an apartment building see this happening and try to escape the onslaught coming towards them. Their last resort is a bomb shelter built by the super of the building, Mickey, played by Michael Biehn. The survivors seal themselves in to keep what’s on the other side of the door out. And then the inevitable power struggles begin. Put several characters in a hermetically sealed room and the result is mayhem 99 out of 100 times.
Gens doesn’t waste any time getting to the shelter. Literally within two minutes, before the credits roll, we are underground. This is of course due to the fact that the movie had a very low budget and couldn’t afford that any expensive digital effects shots, and I suspect even the shots used were picked out of some stock library somewhere, but that’s just my hunch. But enough about that. Once underground the tensions run high from the get-go.
Things get ugly really quick. The descent towards insanity is slow and that’s where my initial remarks come into play. The Divide starts off at a fast pace. A lot happens and all of a sudden Gens decides to scale back the speed of the movie and let us dwell among these people. This would not have been a problem if Gens had a screenplay that made more effort to flesh out its characters more. Instead it just observes the deeds of these people. If we had cared a little bit more about them this would have been interesting, but we don’t. While we wait for something to happen bodies are chopped to bits, children are kidnapped, women are raped, people are shot and killed. All of it stuff that would have been highly effective in the hands of a more capable director.
Towards the end the situation becomes a lot more tense, but not necessarily more interesting. The whole bunker starts to plummet into chaos with Milo Ventimiglia and Michael Eklund going all out in their crazed lunatic roles with shaved heads. At the center we find Lauren German as Eva (first woman in the new world. Get it?), who should be the one to root for, but she is just another bland heroine who doesn’t really do anything at all. All in all, that doesn’t leave a whole lot of people to root for. The only person who remotely deserves our sympathy is Rosanna Arquette’s Marilyn whose daughter is kidnapped and resorts to self-destructive behavior as a result. Her descent into self-loathing and despair is one of the few heartbreaking elements in The Divide.
I’ll say it again… had The Divide been about 25 minutes tighter, it would have been a lot better. Add to that a person to root for and you would have an even better movie. Unfortunately, The Divide has none of this.