Edinburgh International Film Festival

The Divide (2011)

Starring: Michael Biehn, Lauren German, Rosanna Arquette, Milo Ventimiglia, Michael Eklund, Courtney B Vance, Iván González, Ashton Holmes

Directed by: Xavier Gens

Rating: 1 2 3 4 and a half

The Divide

John Paul Sartre hadn't seen The Divide when he declared that 'Hell is other people', but believe me, the film would do nothing to dispel his belief.

It begins predictably enough: as a nuclear explosion ravages New York, the residents of an apartment block take refuge in the bunker-like basement, which also happens to be the home of survivalist janitor Mickey (Michael Biehn).

From the start, the combination of characters is not a happy one: quiet, determined Eva and her weak husband Sam (Lauren German and Iván González), shell-shocked mother Marilyn (Rosanna Arquette) and her young daughter Mary, short-tempered Delvin (Courtney B Vance), arrogant bully boys Bobby (Michael Eklund) and Josh (Milo Ventimiglia) and Josh's sensitive brother Adrien (Ashton Holmes).

Of course they immediately start bitching, bickering and ganging up on each other, but when armed, biohazard suited soldiers burst in to the bunker, snatch Wendy then, after a surreal, aborted sortie by Josh, weld the iron door shut, the trouble really starts.

What follows is a powerful, disturbing, down right nasty depiction of the mental and physical deterioration of a band of desperate, disparate people suffering from cabin fever, radiation sickness and, eventually, full blown certifiable lunacy.

The performances in the film are of a calibre rarely seen in this kind of genre picture. In particular, Milo Ventimiglia (from Gilmore Girls!!) descent from regular guy to Lord of the Flies-style underground overlord is horrifically chilling, but even he is outshone by little known actor Michael Eklund's extraordinary turn as the psychotic, sexually depraved Bobby, whose sordid treatment of Marilyn is nasty in the extreme. (Poor Rosanna Arquette – what did she do to deserve this?)

The Divide is seriously not for the faint-hearted – with some scenes you'll really need your mental floss handy. But it's a stunning achievement for director Xavier Gens (whose last output was the creaky action flick Hitman, which even Timothy Olyphant couldn't save) and a must for any self-respecting horror fan. Just don't expect to come out of this bleak drama smiling: as the nuclear ash falls silently across a desolate New York City, we are left with the feeling that, to misquote Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds, there is nothing worth fighting for in the spirit of man.

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