SXSW 2011 Review: THE DIVIDE
Within the first few seconds of THE DIVIDE, you're keenly aware that this movie has no intention of letting up. It starts with a bang - literally. The opening shot of the film is comprised of New York City being utterly irradiated by nuclear holocaust. With the fear-inspiring vista before their eyes, the group at the center of the film attempts to escape their apartment they are in, but are instead forced into the basement before they're able to sort out the life and death situation at hand. From this point forward, these individuals are forced to coexist despite not knowing their immediate future, not knowing the supply levels of food or water, and not knowing the evil that each person in the group is capable of.
THE DIVIDE features an impressive list of talent from which director Xavier Gens (HITMAN, FRONTIERS) draws. Michael Biehn of THE TERMINATOR fame portrays the apartment's superintendent whose motives for helping the others are unknown to the group. Milo Ventigmila plays a bourgeois, leather-coated jock who is seemingly out to assert his masculinity at every possible chance. His brother, portrayed by Ashton Holmes, is significantly quieter and more reserved - so much so that his character goes largely unnoticed for significant portions of the film. Michael Eklund plays Bobby, a friend of Milo Ventigmila's character, who exhibits many of those hyper-masculine qualities. There are also two females trapped below with them, one portrayed by Rosanna Arquette and the other by Lauren German.
The group, despite a common will to survive, is gradually torn apart. Self-interest, sexual desire, and cabin fever contribute to the already violent nature of man. It's this idea that Xavier Gens is exploring here; he's asking how far human beings will go, how much of their humanity they are willing to give up, in order to survive. Further, he's exploring how evil man can be when he's not held in check by laws, customs, or luxury.
Though Gens is exploring some complex themes, it's also a bare bones thriller at heart. All of the performances are decent, considering the degree to which each actor is hamming it up on screen. Biehn chews up the scenery in an entirely entertaining way, as does Ventimiglia. The plot moves forward with acceptable pacing, with action beats broken up by surprisingly engaging dialogue. What the film ends up doing is great; it's what it doesn't do that keeps it from being a great film.
The film focuses on half of the characters substantially more than the rest which leaves an unevenly developed ensemble. We spend an inordinate amount of time exploring Milo Ventimiglia's and Lauren German's characters, but we spend too little time with Biehn's, who has arguably the most interesting backstory. Gens attempts to construct allusion to post-9/11 American justification of torture, but it's not fully explored in a meaningful way.
It's this lack of follow-through and thematic dedication that keeps THE DIVIDE from being a great film. It's certainly better than HITMAN, Gens' last foray into the cinematic world, but it's still just shy of being one of SXSW's breakout hits.