I like fun horror movies.
I’ll gladly cough up ten bucks for 90 minutes on a twisty, turny, gory thrill-ride of a flick. I’m also a Class-A sucker for a horror comedy that brings the bloodshed and belly laughs in equal measure. And I can easily get caught up in the spook-show atmosphere of a classic black and white creature feature. Honestly, there’s a horror movie for every occasion.
But the kind of horror film I really love is a nasty, brutal, endurance-testing, soul-raping slog through Hell that spits you out the other side a quivering sack of misanthropy. Xavier Gens specializes in those kind of horror films, and The Divide is a breath of fresh air for people who love the smell of putrification.
|There goes the neighborhood. All of them.|
The Divide begins with a nuclear explosion in a major U.S. city, and a building evacuation that only a handful of people survive by making it to the fallout shelter in the basement. What follows is a document of the breakdown of order the group experiences as food becomes scarce and the group splits into factions.
|Every community needs a dentist.|
It’s not so much a spoiler as it is fair warning to tell you that despite some tantalizing clues that only serve to deepen the mystery, the cause of the explosion is never revealed. The audience remains with the survivors, woefully unaware of what is happening, and just trying to stay alive for another day.
Things play out much as you would imagine. Initially everyone follows the only person who has a clue about how to survive. Michael Biehn gives his greatest post-Terminator performance as Mickey, the sneering, cigar-chomping, building superintendent who regards the basement as his personal space and his fellow survivors as the charity-cases he has generously agreed to shelter.
|A sneer so fierce you can practically hear it.|
|Michael Biehn scares little girls.|
|Now there's the Michael Biehn we know and love!|
But as mistrust grows, some people begin to side with the two young, hot-headed toughs who’ve been trapped with them. Predictable? Somewhat. But it’s not the story that elevates Gens’s post-apocalyptic nightmare, but the way it is told. We bear witness to the slow degeneration of each character. Some become tyrants, others their pets. Some become prisoners, others traitors. The toughs go through such a remarkable transformation that they’re unrecognizable by the movie’s end.
|Josh and Bobby resembling human beings.|
|This is... Magnum.|
|Lauren German wishing she'd stayed in Hostel 2.|
The most devastating transformation is Marilyn, played with heart-breaking realism by Rosanna Arquette, who begins the movie as a single mother, becomes a basketcase, then a willing whore, and finally a sex slave. Her final fate is summed up with the nauseating words, “She just… broke.”
|Rosanna Arquette and a sad, sad bunny.|
|Scenes from the Sid and Nancy remake.|
|Duct tape can't fix everything.|
While the group dynamics are the focal point of the movie, there’s also a “home” invasion sequence that works particularly well. From their terrifying hazmat-by-the-way-of-stormtrooper suits to their gigantic white assault rifles, these bad boys put the plastic tunnel scene from E.T. to utter shame.
|Hello. Hello! HELLO!!|
|He's going for the armored barn owl look.|
|Everyone could use a flu shot.|
When the survivors manage to get ahold of one of the suits and designate thuggish Josh (Milo Ventimiglia in a 180 turn from his Heroes persona) to investigate, he finds zero answers and about a thousand questions. And I love that the film never answers them.
|Quit smiling Milo, you ain't on Heroes anymore.|
While The Divide is an ugly, ugly film, it is beautifully shot. The colors, the lighting, the frame composition are all artfully done, and even when the shelter begins to resemble a crackhouse, it remains visually striking, if not exactly beautiful.
|Doggie wants a treat.|
The ending is good and fitting, and not entirely a down note. More of another giant question mark. While the ending comes as a surprise, it’s not really the point of the film. After all, it’s not the destination, but the journey that matters. Even if the journey is a nasty, brutal, endurance-testing, soul-raping slog through Hell.