The 6th Annual Toronto After Dark Film Festival, 8 Nights of Horror, Sci-Fi, Action, and Cult Movies runs Oct 20-27, 2011 at the Toronto Underground Cinema. For complete festival info visit www.torontoafterdark.com.
Some readers may be familiar with my position regarding post-apocalyptic films that I have voiced in previous reviews, but I will go over it once more for new readers. I feel that these films are often not subject to the same standard of criticism that fans and reviewers use for other horror and sci-fi fare. There is something about the end of the world, and a bleak environment faced by a small band of survivors that is extremely appealing to a large group of fans. Too often, poor story lines and insipid dialogue are overlooked, simply because a movie features a post-apocalyptic theme. I can certainly dig post-apocalyptic if it is done well, I’m just not as forgiving as the hardcore fans. I’m sure that I too am guilty of the same selective criticism of other sub-genres, perhaps slashers and dark detective stories. Fortunately, my clash with post-apocalypitc apologists can wait for another time, as I’m sure we can agree that Xavier Gens’ The Divide is a grotesquely mean-spirited and emotionally powerful tour-de-force.
The short which preceded the feature was Blind Spot from Matthew Nayman. Blind Spot depicts a disgruntled man driving on the freeway and attempting to change his flight time while on the phone with some unhelpful booking agents. What the man doesn’t realize is that while he battles the booking agents, an alien invasion has begun outside his driver side window. Viewers listen to the oblivious man argue, while a massive urban centre crumbles and burns in the background. Blind Spot is brilliant in its simplicity and is everything you could want in a short film.
Back to The Divide.
The story begins with Eva (Lauren German) gazing out her apartment at the fiery end of the world, or at least the end of New York City. Eva snaps out of it thanks to her husband Sam (Iván González), and the couple make a dash for the secure basement of their apartment complex. The pair make it to the basement safely, along with a small group of other tenants, including Josh (Milo Ventimiglia), Bobby (Michael Eklund), Marilyn(Rosanna Arquette), and paranoid superintendent Mickey (Michael Biehn), however they are forced to close the doors on a stampede of other tenants, or jeopardize their own safety. It turns out that the people who perished in the blast were the lucky ones, as the inhabitants of the apartment basement begin to lose their sanity and turn on each other in a horrifying sequence of events.
The Divide looks, feels and sounds fantastic, but the real story is the amazing acting turned in by the entire cast. Director Xavier Gens gave the cast a large degree of artistic freedom, so the final on-screen performances are the result of careful writing by Karl Mueller and Eron Sheean, combined with many improvised moments and ideas from the cast. Add to this the strict 31 day diet that Gens placed the cast on, in order to realistically display the worsening physical condition of the characters, and I imagine that much of the on-screen tension was fueled by real emotion.
I really don’t want to go through the performances of the cast one by one, as they were top notch across the board, and of a calibre that is rarely seen in this type of film. Although it should be noted that witnessing Milo Ventimiglia and Michael Eklund transform into despicable villains is absolutely chilling.
Gens has created one the most stifling and claustrophobic atmospheres to ever be depicted on film. The characters in The Divide seem like they could be your real life friends or acquaintances. That is what makes their Lord-of-the-Flies-like descent into barbarism all the more chilling. Do not watch The Divide to have a good time at the movies. Instead, go see it when you are ready to witness the dark side of humanity. The film will weigh on your chest and make it difficult to breathe for 110 minutes, as you try to find a way out for these unfortunate characters while they destroy each other, both physically and mentally.
It should be noted that the Toronto After Dark version of The Divide was not the extended cut. The official Xavier Gens cut will feature an additional 15 minutes of sex, violence, and canned beans (don’t ask). I imagine it will feel like a much darker film. I’m not sure if I could handle that.