Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Xavier Gens' THE DIVIDE: Here comes a particularly unsettling apocalypse

After a nasty, envelope-pushing Frontier(s), followed by a better-than-you-heard-but-still-not-very-good Hitman, French genre director Xavier Gens looks to have found his stride with his latest -- THE DIVIDE -- an ugly, apocalyptic scare fest that is also profoundly sad and all-too unpleasantly human.

An ensemble piece that begins with a memorable shot of New York under nuclear siege as viewed through the eyes of the character with whom we come to identify most, a young woman named Eva (played with a smart combo of steely reserve and pop-up vulnerability by Lauren German), the movie soon becomes the tale of survivors holed-up in the fallout shelter basement of a Manhattan high-rise -- where the usual happens but in a decidedly unusual manner.

M. Gens, pictured at right, both wrote and directed Frontier(s) but only directed Hitman and The Divide, which accounts for the tightness of the formers' screenplay, plotting and characterization. What makes The Divide work as well as it does is the fact that he and his writers (Karl Mueller and Eron Sheean) place characterization above all else (except the main situation, of course) and then let character control the outcome. This adds immeasurably to the movie's believability and helps keep us watching through the most horrible of several wretched occurrences. Unlike those in so many genre movies, you won't find these people doing a lot of out-and-out stupid things along the way. Nasty, character-driven things, perhaps. But not necessarily stupid.

Along with the fine Ms German (above), the cast includes Iván González as her less-than-helpful boyfriend, Michael Biehn (standing, below center, and very good as the super whose basement bunker this is), Rosanna Arquette as a bereaved mother whose bereavement takes an unusual course, Ashton Holmes as the single sensitive guy, and Milo Ventimiglia (second right, below) and Michael Eklund (below, right) as the two most "problemed" males in the bunch.

Among the several intelligent surprises the movie has to offer is the revelation of the identity of the "towelheads" (as Biehn's super calls them) who attacked us, and the short excursion that one of our fellows makes outside the bunker -- the results of which you'll wish you didn't know.

No rom-com day-at-the-beach, The Divide is grueling but satisfying (in dark ways, yes). The movie, from Anchor Bay Films and running 110 minutes, opens this Friday, January 13, at midnight screenings only (it deserves better and more) in Austin, Boston, Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles and New York, and will hit a flock of other cities beginning Friday, January 20.  Click here (and then click on SHOWTIMES) to find all currently scheduled cities and theaters.

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