In Xavier Gens’s The Divide, the revolution will not be televised, only the degradation of human civility—and in a mire of clichés more toxic to the mind than the radioactive dust that causes everyone’s hair to fall out in the wake of a nuclear explosion. Following the goofy, almost anime-looking blast, a bunch of stock types pile into the basement of their very un-New York City apartment building, where handyman Mickey (Michael Biehn) seems to have holed himself up since at least the day after 9/11 as if in anticipation of this very day. The participants in what quickly reveals itself as an amateur hour that would make even Lamberto Bava blush include a splitsville-bound couple, a frazzled mom and her young daughter, the obligatory black dude, a crotch-obsessed punk type, and two half-brothers whose shared destiny is to go out not only with a bang but with their pectorals exposed. More than the radioactivity that seemingly leaks into the characters’ underground prison, man is depicted as his own worst enemy, but for the audience there is perhaps no greater threat than Gens’s overripe artistry.
This horror/sci-fi hybrid is a hodgepodge of plot holes and pointless divergences. From the second they enter Mickey’s shelter, the characters already seem to be suffering from cabin fever, insulting each other as if they’ve known each other for years and trying to claw their way outside in spite of knowing what awaits them beyond the basement’s steel door. Just as there’s no sense, no patience even, of how time frays the mind in moments of crisis, how to explain the means by which a Hazmat team manages to reach this ground zero, entering the basement and nabbing Marilyn’s (Rosanna Arquette) daughter in order to submit the girl to a series of tests in a lab set up immediately outside the premises? When Josh (Milo Ventimiglia), wearing the suit of one of the men his group dispatches in grisly fashion, takes a peak outside and discovers the girl’s fate, he returns to his fellow survivors and merely shakes his head in Marilyn’s direction, implying that the girl is a goner when the truth is…she’s bald!
Gens’s stylistic choices range from the purple to the incomprehensible: every can of beans is opened in Aronofsky-O-Vision; a Steadicam repeatedly and gracelessly soars into the ceiling and through the network of pipes of grates above the characters’ heads; and when Marilyn lunges for her daughter as the men in Hazmat suits pull her out of the basement, she does so in homage to The Matrix‘s bullet time. Gens shoots his basement location as if it were Marilyn Manson’s playroom from the ‘90s, one dark and grimy corner after another, with special repeated appearances by the bug that crawled into Tyler, the Creator’s mouth last year. Relentlessly over-scored and incoherently spliced together, The Divide settles into a nasty, redundant, largely hilarious funk once the characters accept their fates, behaving badly and aggressively toward one another, and in the case of a game Arquette, overzealously giving expression to the film’s title by smearing lipstick, perhaps in homage to Holly Woodlawn, past the border that separates her mouth from the rest of her face.