Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Film Review: THE DIVIDE

Given my attraction to all things scary, it may come as little surprise that I’ve suffered from nightmares all of my life. A relative few have been what I refer to as “apocalypse dreams.” They started when I was in grade school, and while they don’t come often, they are the most vivid, realistic and terrifying dreams I’ve ever had. Once in college, I refused to leave my room for the entire next day because the physical panic of that dream would not let go of me.

Despite that fear, I’m a sucker for apocalypse stories. This speaks volumes about my pattern of fascination with the things that scare me the most.

THE DIVIDE (2011) focuses a little less on what is happening in the world outside than other apocalypse films, choosing instead to give us an unsettling look into the way its characters deal with their predicament. The film starts with a young woman in an apartment building, right in the middle of a large fiery disaster with little explanation of what is happening. A small group of people living in the building, including the woman, are saved from obliteration by forcing their way into a fallout shelter in the basement that was built by the gruff super. After a believed rescue results in the kidnapping of one woman’s child and the entire group being shot at, things really start to get weird. Bit by bit, over an indeterminable amount of time the group falls apart thanks to isolation, starvation, paranoia, fear and some good old radioactivity poisoning thrown in for good measure. About half the group are decent enough people who, while pushed to their emotional limits, keep their wits about them more or less. The other half fall to astounding depths of depravity, merciless and aggressive in what they do to the rest of the group.

What THE DIVIDE lacks in early dialogue it makes up for in sustained tension. I was engaged for almost the entire movie, wondering just how much worse it could get. The acting was good, the premise interesting and the result disturbing. I’m not a fan of pushing to extremes for their own sake, so by the end they had gone over my personal limit. I’d had enough of the abuse, torture, mind games and violence. But it was effective, and the ending was a nice payoff after witnessing all of that insanity.

The weakest area of the film is in the beginning. Emotions are a little over the top, and the dialogue bounces between being unoriginal and confusing. We also don’t learn very much about what is really happening or the backstories of each character. I can appreciate the benefits of holding back for the sake of mystery, story, character development but I could have used more than a hint about the survivors’ pasts to get me more invested in what happens to them. And the brief presence of suited men equipped with weapons only made me more curious about the world outside, bringing up questions that are never touched on again.

Despite these disappointments, I give THE DIVIDE credit for its atmosphere, its sense of suffocating tension. The deterioration of the group is like a gruesome car wreck you can’t help watching. It wasn’t a perfect execution, but it creeped me out and I think it’s worth seeing if you can stomach the perversion and blood.

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