Even though Xavier Gens' Frontières has earned its place amongst the front-runners of the French horror wave, a film like Hitman already hinted at Gens' broader vision. With The Divide Gens takes the post-apocalyptic route and serves a slice of cabin fever that smartly combines horror elements with equal parts of thriller and sci-fi. The result is a claustrophobic film that is easily one of the best in the genre, though it is equally sure to divide audiences.
The biggest "problem" with The Divide is that it's not at all interested in its post-apocalyptic setting. While the film is advertised as a post-apocalyptic sci-fi flick, the setting is merely a trigger for the story to get rolling. Safe two or three shorts scenes, you won't see much of the outside world, nor are you going to find out what exactly happened. The Divide is a pure cabin fever flick, which could come as a real disappointment to people expecting a post-apocalyptic battlefield.
The film starts with a vision of a nuclear blast. A group of people runs for cover and ends up in a nuclear shelter. The owner of the shelter is a somewhat secluded janitor who immediately claims control over the group. The shelter is shut off from the rest of the world and no-one is allowed to leave their hiding place until the nuclear dust has cleared up. Not long after though, the first frustrations start to pull the group apart.
Things take a turn for the worse when an alleged rescue time arrives to free the people from their underground prison. Chaos ensues when a team of suits enter the shelter and forcibly take away a child in a containment bag. In return the group manages to kill one of the suits, leaving them with one single piece of equipment that can save their lives. The other suits retreat but soon after they return to weld the shelter door shut, eliminating the group's single route of escape. From there on, things only get worse.
Gens keeps tight control over the visual side of things. The Divide is basically a single-location film, but through beautiful camera work and interesting perspectives Gens manages to keep the film attractive. The few scenes outside make for a welcome diversion, but apart from a few decent CG shots there isn't much of the post-apocalyptic world to admire. Much of the inside scenes are bathed in sepia tones, combined with the low-lit areas this makes for some very atmospheric shots while maintaining a very claustrophobic feel.
The soundtrack is mostly generic fare to build up the tension. It's a decent soundtrack but for the larger part it doesn't go beyond its functional requirements. It does feel like a missed opportunity though, as there are a few tracks, mostly used during key scenes, that really lift the atmosphere to new heights. The final scene in particular is of exceptional beauty and part of that is due to the strong score underlining the shot.
As for the acting, things aren't as clear cut. Clearly the actors aren't A-grade material. Even though Lauren German does a good job you can't help but feel Gens was trying to find a replacement for Milla Jovovich. The rest of the cast doesn't even reach the level of German but considering their capabilities they do a decent enough job. Luckily there's an upside to all of this. Where A-grade actors are usually more restrained, these guys go all out during the last 45 minutes of the film. When depravity hits the shelter, these people have no problem at all to bring out the worst in them, which makes the second hour all that more exciting to watch. So yeah, the actors may not be stellar, but I firmly believe the film actually benefits from this.
It may sound like a waste of post-apocalyptic fun to construct a cabin fever film out of this, but the post-apocalyptic setting actually makes for some fine mystery. You never really find out what triggered the nuclear explosion, Gens throws in a few puzzle pieces left and right but they never seem to match or lead to something conclusive. In return you keep wondering what the hell is happening outside the shelter. Some people will be frustrated because the film leaves them hanging without a proper explanation, others will embrace this decision as it gives a better idea of what the group is going through.
The Divide is a tad long and could've done with a little cutting around the half-way mark, but the second hour is definitely worth the wait. As the situation gets worse inside the shelter, people are gradually falling apart and things get quite messy. The struggle for survival is a tough and nasty one, leading to a more than satisfactory conclusion. Where the first hour left me mostly intrigued, the second hour seals the deal.
With The Divide, Gens created another stylish genre flick. It may not live up to people's expectations, but if you're willing to just follow Gens on his trip down cabin fever lane there is plenty of fun to be had with The Divide. And if you can maneuver yourself past the mediocre acting, there is nothing else standing in the way of some prime claustrophobic, post-apocalyptic fun.