Michael Biehn is a national treasure. Scratch that; he’s whatever the planetary equivalent is. Universal Treasure? Milky Way Treasure? Whether it be his most well known hits such as The Terminator or Aliens to cult movies like Cherry Falls, or even his own directorial work in The Victim he’s always a fully committed bad-ass. In short, I’ll watch anything he’s attached to, even something which was as critically slaughtered as this. Normally I would go in cautious, but a brief look at the rest of the cast – Rosanna Arquette, Milo Ventimiglia, Courtney B Vance raises hopes. The fact that it was directed by Xavier Gens, whose Frontiers is one of the best horror movies since 2000 cements it for me. The cherry on top is the premise – a group of New Yorkers are trapped in a basement after a catastrophic event. That sort of fixed location story is always intriguing to me, and a good director and writer can wring gut-loads of tension from a small budget. Is it as bad as everyone has claimed?
The film gets straight to the point – there is no build up or warning and within the opening seconds some sort of explosion rocks an apartment building in New York – as people run for cover, a small group decides to escape to the basement. The building superintendent Micky (Biehn) lives there and isn’t pleased that others have crashed his survivalist dream. We meet a girl called Eva and her boyfriend Sam, brothers Josh and Adrian and their friend Bobby, a young girl and her mother Marilyn, and another dude. Micky tries to enforce his will on the group and the various parties butt heads and discuss what happened. Just as it looked like this would be the continuing sequence for the rest of the movie, a group of dudes in Hazmat suits burst in with guns and kidnap the little girl before running out, but not before the group fights back and takes out a few of the intruders. Understanding that the air outside is infected they formulate a plan to get the girl back.
At this point in the movie I hoped the narrative would continue in this twisting manner but we quickly revert back to the group’s infighting and attempts to survive. It doesn’t take long for secrets to be uncovered, sides to form, and minds to slip towards insanity, all while the lethal air outside threatens to seep in. Rather than the descent into violence and madness feeling natural, it comes across as both abrupt and hardly surprising because several of the characters are dicks to begin with. The performances are fine across the board and quite a few of the cast go above and beyond, fully committing to the growing madness. The story and the colour palette grow continually grim and there is sporadic physical and sexual violence, though few surprises. Throughout, it seems unlikely that there is going to be a happy ending.
Horror fans looking for thrills and shocks won’t find what they’re looking for here, but they will find a fairly dark vision of people in an impossible position. Biehn, and most of the cast play generally unlikable people who progressively get worse, but their performances are strong enough to cover the issues which are inherent in watching characters we don’t like. Gens wallows in the filth and misery and doesn’t explore some of the film’s early surprises or obvious questions. Due to all of this, it’s likely that the film will only find fans if they enjoy the premise or the stars, but it’s worth a watch for those of us interested in humanity’s collapse.
Let us know in the comments what you thought of The Divide!