Doomsday is out of the vaults and back on the screen, proving once again that January is the worst month for tacky retreads. All you get is the junk that wasn’t good enough to be released at the end of the previous year. Expect the dregs for weeks to come, but I can safely say with absolutely no trepidation that it is unlikely to get worse than a lurid, lewd and loathsome shockfest called The Divide.
Despite a few arresting pre-credit images of burning and screaming victims hurling themselves down the stairs of crumbling and exploding New York buildings that are too close to 9/11 for most viewers to find watchable, this dreadful movie is bereft of originality and nothing more than another cheesy slice-and-dice horror flick, only 100 times more grim, violent, sexually explicit and doggedly depressing than most. In the postapocalyptic days following a nuclear attack, nine people huddle together in the subterranean cellar below their Manhattan apartment building, unable to venture forth into the outside world because of the radioactive dust. Michael Biehn plays Mickey, the sleazy superintendent of what used to be the building above. The exact address is, to be precise, the northwest corner of Fifth Avenue and 29th Street, so if you live there (or know anyone who does) you can start thinking about collapsing real estate values and make plans early.
Mickey has been hoarding food and supplies in a walk-in safe. When the already-nervous tenants grow restless and terrified from starvation, dead cell-phone signals, no water or electricity and every exit’s being sealed with duct tape, you can imagine what happens when they discover unopened cans of pork and beans. To make things worse, Mickey takes delight describing the noxious details of what happened to nuclear survivors in Japan and Chernobyl. Set designs of cylindrical rooms, walled by filthy tiles and connected by rusty pipes, make the film doubly unpleasant to look at (all highly reminiscent of the dungeons in the Saw franchise), but the claustrophobia adds effectively to the unsettling atmospheric touches and the growing paranoia. It’s inevitable that something awful will eventually befall Mickey, but the running time of 2 hours two minutes is much too long to wait. Many walkouts predicted.
Who is destroying the planet this time? Martians? Terrorists? A rogue nation? It’s not clear, even when the enemy invades the cellar wearing radiation helmets and hazmat suits, and drags off the only child in the basement for no coherent reason. This turns the girl’s mother into a sexual psychotic (played by Rosanna Arquette, natch, who has always been on close terms with insanity). The similarities between The Divide and other gruesome end-of-the-world debacles like Children of War, Blindness and The World, the Flesh and the Devil are obvious, but the big difference in The Divide is that it is less about telling an interesting story rooted in science fiction than it is in piling on the clichés and trashily pulling out the stops to see how gratuitously shocking and offensive it can get to stir up some controversy when nothing else works. The stock characters—the aging reprobate super, an unhappy wife and her wimpy husband, a whining kid and a mother who turns unconvincingly into a flaming sexpot, a black dude from central casting, two abs-obsessed hoods who end up wearing dresses and the only nice guy with a moral compass—are fueled by paranoia into savages who make the bloody clan in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre look like Little League umpires. By the time they chopped up the rotting cadavers of the intruders and dumped the pieces into the septic tank, I couldn’t watch any more. I took a welcome break, then returned, but when the survivors turned on each other, things really turned nasty. Sodomy, gang rape, cutting off each others’ fingers—you wonder not only how much more they can take, but how much more you can take. Sex and torture prevail, and keep an eye on that septic tank. It figures prominently. If the objective is to make the audience ill, The Divide succeeds.
Mr. Biehn eats the scenery, but fortunately he spends the second half of the movie tied to a chair. The rest of the cast sinks in a cesspool of depravity. The director of this pointless, nihilistic trash wallow is Xavier Gens. His tagline is “To survive the end of the world you must first survive each other.” Nobody survives anything in The Divide, including the audience.
Running Time 122 minutes
Written by Karl Mueller and Eron Sheean
Directed by Xavier Gens
Starring Lauren German, Jennifer Blanc and Michael Biehn