You sort of get the idea that Xavier Gens’ post-apocalyptic drama, The Divide, won’t exactly be a feel good flick from the moment the film opens. New York is decimated by nuclear bombs while the denizens of an apartment building flee in terror, with a select few making it to the building’s basement – a grimy makeshift “fallout shelter” put together by surly superintendent, Mickey (an incredible Michael Biehn, who, once again, proves he’s still leading-man material). Within seconds of closing the metal door behind them, Mickey informs the group that this shelter is his home, they are his guests, and that they must play by his rules, these being accepting their rations, pouring Lyme in the septic tank after they’ve used the facilities, and, most importantly, never, under any circumstances, opening the goddamned door.
Save for the paranoid Mickey, folks are civil enough; for a short while, at least. Delvin (Courtney B. Vance) mans the radio and serves as a voice of reason; Marilyn (Rosanna Arquette) tends to her frightened daughter, Wendi (Abby Thickson); Josh (Milo Ventimiglia), Bobby (Michael Eklund), and Adrian (Ashton Holmes) share cigarettes and play games, and couple, Sam (Ivan Gonzalez) and Eva (the hauntingly beautiful Lauren German) quietly console each other whilst the city crumbles overhead. As the days pass, and things quiet down outside, the natives get a little restless, and Josh decides it’s time to blow this pop stand and see just what the hell’s going on up there. As Josh rallies Bobby and Adrian to help him open the door, Mickey rewards Josh’s defiance with an axe handle to the ribs, and warns that, next time he tries something like that, he’ll get the other end.
It’s not long after that, however, that the group hears something above them; a digging sound, followed by a rapping on the outer door. Everyone celebrates as they anticipate a rescue, but Mickey and Delvin aren’t quite as optimistic, and they cut the lights and fade off into the shadows. When the door flies open, a group of machine gun toting men in white Hazmat suits charge into the bomb cellar, abduct Marilyn’s daughter, and then set upon the rest of the survivors with the intent of wiping them out. Our group fights back, however, and take two of the soldiers down before the rest exit from whence they came. Mickey is convinced that the soldiers are Arabs, but, when Delvin unmasks them and reveals they’re Americans, it becomes clear that no one is coming to rescue them. Matters are made worse when, after a misguided attempt to reclaim Wendi, the mysterious soldiers weld the door shut, trapping the survivors inside. With their supplies dwindling and their baser instincts taking over, our once civilized group begins to turn on one another.
Anyone familiar with Xavier Gens’ notorious French torture porn opus, Frontier(s), knows full well that this is a man capable of pushing the envelope when it comes to stomach-churning violence and repellant imagery. As brutal and uncomfortable as Frontier(s) was to watch, The Divide is that much more so, as it takes its time setting up its characters before plunging them into the depths of human depravity. Once seemingly heroic characters devolve into animalistic brutes, forcing themselves on the women, humiliating the weak, and hording food and supplies. It’s all very uncompromising stuff, and, for some, may be downright difficult (if not impossible) to see through to its expectedly downbeat conclusion. But damnit if this ain’t one of the best (and, sadly, probably most authentic) depictions of post-apocalyptic survival I’ve seen. Yes, it’s horrific, and, at times, I just wanted to fast forward through the “ugly bits” in the hopes of seeing some sort of light at the end of this murky, fetid tunnel, but that’s precisely why The Divide is so effective. The apocalypse shouldn’t be pretty. As much as we like to think the human spirit will overcome all, I’ve got to think that when a group of strangers are put together in a situation like this, well…shit’s going to get ugly fast. The fact that Gens doesn’t cop out and offer any of these characters a genuine shot at redemption is admirable, and, more than likely, the very reason this film didn’t get much (if any) play in cinemas. Like I said at the outset; this is NOT a feel good movie by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s a damned good one that will push buttons you didn’t even know you had.
The Divide comes to Blu-ray courtesy of Anchor Bay and is presented in an appropriately gloomy and near-colorless 2.35:1 transfer that perfectly captures the film’s hopeless vibe. The image is very crisp and well balanced despite much of the action taking place in shadows and darkness. Detail is very impressive, and is very evident in the many close-ups of faces, textures, and all manner of grotesque imagery (giant cockroaches scampering over empty cans of beans, decaying bodies, etc). Colors are intentionally washed out, save for a few scenes outside of the bunker, so don’t expect much more than lantern-glow yellows and several shades of gray. As unattractive as this all may sound, it’s a really exceptional transfer that totally suits the mood, and the accompanying Dolby True HD 7.1 soundtrack compliments it nicely, with excellent directional effects, rumbling bass, and well implemented sound effects that are oftentimes as gruesome as the scenes they accompany.
Extras are sadly few, but the lack of quantity is made up for by the quality of the included commentary track featuring Gens, Ventimiglia, Eklund, and Biehn. In this very funny and informative track, you can tell the polite Gens wants to talk about the film, but keeps getting sidetracked by his actors’ oftentimes hilarious asides. Still, the director gets enough across to give us a better understanding of what went into making the film, while the actors’ contributions fill in some of the gaps. I’ll take this over a sterile EPK any day. Also included are a collection of trailers (HD) for this and other Anchor Bay releases.
I’m not going to sugarcoat this; The Divide is a brutal, bloody, and fairly depressing piece of cinema that’s so bleak and despairing that only the most masochistic and insensitive soul can claim to enjoy. Now, that being said, it’s a really good film that boasts an impressive cast, excellent direction, and a heck of a performance by the woefully underrated Michael Biehn. Anchor Bay’s Blu-ray presentation offers up above average picture and audio quality, but skimps as far as extras are concerned. Still, what’s here is great stuff and compliments this very disturbing and engrossing sci-fi horror flick quite nicely. Highly recommended!