DECEMBER 12, 2011
I'd like to think that Xavier Gens just has poor taste in scripts, but maybe he's just not the great filmmaker we were hoping. Hitman isn't fair to judge because of all the FOX mangling, but it's worth noting that they did the same thing to Kassovitz on Babylon AD and that was still at least pretty enjoyable. Frontiere(s) was well shot, but the script (his own) was painfully generic, running through sequences and situations lifted from every Texas Chainsaw/Wrong Turn ripoff you've ever seen. And now he's back with The Divide, which starts promisingly but just gets worse as it goes, becoming laughable when it's supposed to be at its most intense.
As I've said before, I'd rather a movie just suck throughout rather than piss away initial promise. Karl Mueller and Eron Sheean's script wastes no time in getting going - the first shot is of our heroine (the always welcome Lauren German) watching New York explode/disintegrate from her apartment window, courtesy of a few nukes (their origin is never explained, but it doesn't matter). Her and some other faces you might recognize in between edits make their way down to the basement, where the landlord (Michael Biehn) has created a makeshift shelter, except he wasn't planning on sharing it.
Our group is pretty typical - the heroine, a kid, some alpha males, a cool-headed black guy... nothing much interesting there. One of the movie's first signs of trouble is the fact that they seemingly skip over most of the "getting to know you" stuff - it's a while into the movie before you get anyone's name, and how they relate to each other is also pretty vague. I still am unsure if the Michael Eklund and Milo Ventimiglia characters were lovers prior to the attack, and it's not until nearly the end of the film that we learn about German's engagement to her boyfriend.
Still, the early stuff works - Biehn explains what they have and what they DON'T have, folks offer theories... standard "bunker movie" stuff, but filtered through an admirably eclectic cast and Gens' creative shooting, which keeps things interesting on a visual level despite the fact that the whole movie takes place in a basement with 3-4 rooms. There's a great bit when we think we're looking down a corridor at our heroes, only to discover it's a mirror and they're actually in a fairly small area - stuff like that makes up for the fact that the story is next to worthless, at least for a while.
Because you see, not even the best DP and director team in the world could make something good out of this particular script (assuming that the script wasn't compromised much for budgetary reasons - it couldn't have been a very expensive production, and I assume a lot of that went to the actors). Characters constantly change motivation; Ventimiglia is the guy that goes out to try to rescue someone, then he goes crazy, then he actually displays some sense with regards to the food... it's just too inconsistent. Rosanna Arquette's character in particular doesn't "work" - why is she suddenly uncaring about her daughter's circumstances?
Passage of time is also a trouble spot; we are told at one point that a combination lock was changed "two weeks ago", but there is nothing to indicate if said change was made instantly, or if there was a month or so in between the lock's first appearance in the movie and it being changed. Hell, I wasn't even aware that two weeks had gone by since the movie started! The male characters keep up with their shaving, so there's no real help there - there's not even a guy making notches on a wall, which is sort of a standard "look how much time has passed" scene in these sort of movies. And it's PARTICULARLY problematic here, since the core concept is that when people feel threatened they'll react with extreme measure regardless of the circumstances (and we get a few 9-11 references to hammer the point home), but without any understanding of how long they've been trapped together, it's unknown whether the characters were being rash or understandably crazed. If it was only two weeks, sure, they're just assholes - but if it was six months, I can see going a little stir crazy.
Ultimately I just started thinking of a great Onion article, where the survivors of a group trapped in an elevator wonder if they resorted to cannibalism too early (we ultimately learn they were in there less than an hour). Because if this WAS only a couple days, then the movie is potentially the most disastrous of the year (or a very subtle attempt at comedy). And if it WAS supposed to be months, then the missing info just adds to the film's overall problem, in that it takes a potentially great idea and largely mucks it up courtesy of what feels like a first draft script filled with far too many issues left maddeningly vague.
What say you?
P.S. Even if it's largely ripped off from John Murphy's 28 Days/Sunshine cues, the score is quite good - I'd never watch the movie again, but I'd love to have the soundtrack. Make it happen, Anchor Bay!