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Predictable plot leaves 'Divide' hopeless

By Rucy Cui     1/25/12 6:00pm

With a tagline as bleakly ominous as "The lucky ones died in the blast," The Divide is the kind of movie you go into expecting the worst because you already recognize its plot twists from a mile away. Like most in the post-apocalyptic survival horror genre, the film fetishizes humanity's actual inhumanity in the face of a hugely cataclysmic event. Director Xavier Gens (whose body of work also includes the brutally gruesome Frontier(s)) is the clever man who shows us the wickedness of the human race. He unflinchingly chronicles the worst of human depravity — ranging from murder to rape to psychosexual torture — with a sort of bullheadedness that taunts the audience by asking, "See? I told you we were irredeemable, didn't I?" The Divide offers nothing groundbreaking, but the capacity for evil in this movie, although dramatized, is plausible enough for quite a few chills.

The closest character we accept as a protagonist is Eva, played by budding scream queen Lauren German of Hostel: Part II and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre fame. In the opening shot, we watch a single tear drip down her cheek as she gazes at a nuclear bomb falling on New York City from the window of her high-rise apartment building. Her fiance, Sam (Ivan Gonzalez, Taxi 4), frantically grabs her hand, leading her to the basement of the apartment. Taking refuge in the basement alongside the couple are bullies-to-be Bobby (Michael Eklund, Pressed), Josh (Milo Ventimiglia, Order of Chaos), gentle-mannered mother Marilyn (Rosanna Arquette, Convincing Clooney) and her daughter Wendi (Abbey Thickson, ever7). The apartment landlord, displeased at the number of people he will now have to share his makeshift bunker with, seals the door with duct tape for protection against stray particles of radioactive dust and cautions everyone against leaving. "Your face will melt off and your hair will fall out," he warns nastily. Thus begins a grim story of cabin fever, madness and paranoia.

Throughout the movie, the divide between the inside and outside is a constant motif. Gens' shots linger on the cast-iron door to beat the audience over the head with the fact that it's significant. Eventually, ever-present questions about the outside world — Is anyone else still alive? Is the Red Cross erecting white tents and passing out water bottles? — are answered in the form of strangers in hazmat suits barging in and abducting Marilyn's daughter for an unexplained medical experiment. For Gens, the abduction of Marilyn's daughter is a bit of a cop-out because what could have been a fascinating detail about this post-apocalyptic world turns into a red herring pushed under the proverbial rug of convenient storytelling.

The Divide flounders when the audience senses the worst is coming. When Bobby and Josh seize control of the dwindling food supply, it becomes apparent that the handful of characters left are descending deeper and deeper into unhinged psychosis. There's a gratuitous amount of rape, as well as a bizarre scene of cross-dressing at the hands of the sexually deviant Bobby. He totters around in a spaghetti-strap dress and violet lipstick, but instead of being disturbing or frightening, the scene is one of several examples of misplaced humor throughout the movie. Unintentionally humorous cross-dressing aside, Eklund is unwaveringly committed to his role. With a single cock of the head and squint of the eyes, he manages to convey a great deal of frenzied feeling.

The same committed acting cannot be said for the supposed protagonist of the movie. Even during the final climactic scene that manages to tie together self-immolation, throat-slitting and abandonment, German, as Eva, projects as woodenly as a coffee table. Her inner workings are a mystery to us, and for that very reason, she isn't a character to feel strongly about.

Gens never explains how much time has passed underground, a bold move because we lose patience as inevitably as the story plods along. If you're itching for a relentlessly miserable movie that tries to shove the pointlessness of humanity down your throat, look no further.

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