Mickey seals the lone door to the basement with tape and forbids anyone from opening it, claiming that breaking the seal will expose them to radiation from the nuclear attack that he assumes is the work of Arab terrorists. He has a stock of food and supplies that he rations to the group, but it's not long before some of them begin to suspect that he's holding out on them -- especially considering he has a private room that he won't allow anyone to enter.
As days pass, the inevitable schisms form within the group as they try to decide how to make it through, particularly when an unexpectedly violent encounter with figures from the outside world makes it clear that escape is not much of an option. Bodies and minds begin to deteriorate, and while attractive young Eva (Lauren German) remains the voice of reason, she's also a target whom her passive fiance Sam (Ivan Gonzalez) can't protect from their increasingly deranged roommates.
The End Result
From there, the characterizations become a bit awkward and the interactions forced, as if screenwriters Karl Mueller and Eron Sheean were overly eager to bulldoze into the meat of the story, i.e. the lethal discord within the group. Within five minutes of being cooped up together, they're arguing. Within 10 minutes, they've invaded the rations. Within 15 minutes, some have already reached a breaking point. Shoehorning animosity and conflict where it shouldn't immediately exist proves detrimental to some of the performances, which feel at times like overacted, maniacal shouting contests.
These issues, however, fade away as the movie progresses and the dialogue becomes less stilted and more organic to the situation. Michael Eklund in particular jumps out from the pack, his gradual deterioration from harmless slacker to unhinged goon is a marvel. His performance helps heighten the stakes within the scenario, which is at once familiar (Lord of the Flies meets The Road Warrior within 12 Angry Men-like confines) and unpredictable as it builds to a harrowing climax.
That said, The Divide is a bit rough around the edges. There are some pace problems, a few annoying characters (Sam and Adrien are lily-livered and useless), a frustrating lack of cooperation within the group and an even more frustrating vagueness about what's going on outside the basement. Plus, it doesn't provide any real hint of how much time has passed (Days? Weeks? Months?), making it more difficult to judge the characters' transformations or size up the scene.
But the dark, uncompromising edginess of both the story and the performances win in the end. The film's frustrations are an indication of how enveloping it is and how easily you end up envisioning yourself under these circumstances. Gens eases that transition by lending the polished, cinematic look of a much larger film, even if the bulk of the tale is confined to three rooms.
- Acting: B- (Eklund, who has thus far sadly toiled in relative obscurity -- including multiple Uwe Boll movies -- shines.)
- Direction: B- (Attractively shot with sweeping camera movements that belie the modest budget.)
- Script: C (Both exhilarating and frustrating.)
- Gore/Effects: B- (A couple of squeamish gore scenes; CGI is effective, if not completely believable.)
- Overall: B- (Not without its flaws, but its grim, intriguing subject matter and strong cast make for an absorbing thriller.)
The Divide is directed by Xavier Gens and is not rated by the MPAA. Release date: January 13, 2012.