It’s the End of the World and I Feel Awful
Published on January 12th, 2012 | by Halim Cillov0
Running time: 110 minutes.
Sick. Twisted. Nerve-wracking. These are the first words that come to mind to describe French director Xavier Gens’s latest celluloid nightmare. This is not necessarily a bad thing, however, since “The Divide” is a straightforward gore-oriented horror film that aims to disturb and haunt.
After a horrendous nuclear attack, a diverse group of survivors take refuge in the fallout shelter of their apartment building. As they eventually start running out of food and water, their desperation brings out their darkest, most animalistic selves. Locked away in a rusty and claustrophobic basement, the survivors soon enter a waking nightmare of psychosexual torture as the thugs among them become the vicious rulers of this new world. Some survivors band together to escape this totalitarian prison, but they know that there might be worse predators waiting for them in the outside world.
With the recent popularity of torture porn and “End-of-the-World” movies, it was only a matter of time before someone mashed up these two sub-genres. Gens, whose atmospheric horror film “Frontier(s)” was a cult hit among horror fans, once again brilliantly sets up a uniquely perverse world overflowing with palpable fear, blood, and torture. The creepy fallout shelter, where most of the story takes place, is a suffocating and terrifying hole, thus the perfect setting for a film in which the majority of the characters come unhinged due to their inhumane circumstances. Solidifying the idiosyncratic atmosphere of the film is its elegiac score, which is used minimally but effectively. All of these elements combine to make “The Divide” a stylish horror film concerned both with having an idiosyncratic look and with deeply disturbing the masses.
The central theme of “The Divide” is an elementary yet thought-provoking one: the basic will to survive at the core of each of us. While this primal instinct motivates all the doomed characters in “The Divide,” as the movie postulates, this instinct manifests itself very differently in everyone. Some of us become violent and domineering, others become passive and anxious, and still others become hypersexual. “The Divide” does a sublime job of permanently scarring us by showing all the grotesque ways in which individual personalities mutate under horrific circumstances; however, as a character study, this movie fails because most of the characters don’t get sufficiently developed. They are treated as mere pawns, their deaths adding gore to the film. The terror in the movie would have been much more effective had there been fewer characters, and had these characters been more fully developed so that we might care about them enough to feel concerned about them and their fates.
No doubt part of the excitement of watching a horror film is that uncomfortable feeling of witnessing the characters gruesomely die, one after another, while trying to guess who is going to be the lone survivor. However, in “The Divide,” that camp element, which makes so many horror movies fun, is not present at all. The violence in “The Divide” is extremely graphic and most definitely not for the faint of heart; Gens’s apocalyptic world is disturbing, chaotic, and deprived of any kind of morality. Torture, rape, violence, bloody deaths, and madness are all main characters in this theater of cruelty. But intellectually, “The Divide” falls short. The film’s clumsy approach to conceptualizing a solid context prevents the film from saying something profound or controversial. At no point, however, does “The Divide” pretend to be anything more than what it is: a violent, adrenalizing, horror film.
“The Divide” is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea due to its explicit portrayal of violence and its graphic torture sequences. But die-hard horror fans will most likely be delighted by this dystopian, misanthropic, torture porn madness packaged with striking visuals. It must be said that there is something deeply haunting about a horror film in which the gore and terror come not from monsters, demons, or ghosts, but from our fellow human beings. Watch at your own discretion!