After Dark 2011 – My Review of The Divide
Last night, Geek Hard was once again in attendance at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival…..And this time with Mr. Green in tow.
One of the films I was really excited to see at the fest was The Divide, starring Lauren German, Michael Biehn and Milo Ventimiglia and Directed by Xavier Gens. I had heard good things about the film (some of it from Biehn himself this past summer), but purposely did not try to find out too much about the plot as I wanted to be surprised by this independent film. So often do we go into a film knowing exactly what the story structure will be from the trailers we’ve seen and the synopsis’ we’ve read, it was refreshing to see a film with no expectations and no real knowledge of what was coming next. Refreshing and surprising indeed.
Green and I took our seats in the sold-out auditorium of the Underground cinema as Festival Director and Founder, Adam Lopez, took to the stage to begin the evening’s festivities. Before starting the show, Adam invited director Gens, as well as actors Biehn, Ventimiglia and co-star Michael Eklund to introduce the film. Michael Biehn took this opportunity to talk about one man who has not had a chance to attend any screenings for the film, producer Ross Dinerstein. He lead the crowd in giving Mr. Dinerstein a standing ovation for his efforts. Hopefully, someone got it on tape so Biehn can show it to him.
And then the show began! Before the feature, we were treated to a short film, Blind Spot – the story of a man who is hell-bent on changing his airline ticket over the phone as he drives to the airport. Little does he know that there are more pressing problems going on in his midst than his own. It was a funny little comedy and quite short (only a few minutes). A great lead in to the film we were about to see. It was nice to watch something so light before digging in for the heavy themes of The Divide.
The Divide is a post-apocalyptic story that focuses on a small group of survivors trapped in an underground unit of an apartment building. This group is made up of a hodge podge of the residents from the building – a young couple, a trio of young single guys, a mother and child, the superintendent, and another middle-aged occupant (played by Courtney B. Vance). Less about the devastation that has happened above, the story focuses more on the feeling of being trapped and even though you are surrounded by people, feeling isolated from everything and everyone. As time passes, the group begins to turn on each other and make choices and decisions that they would not dream they could make. Lauren German acts as the window into this world, trying to maintain some balance and civility, while the others slowly descend into madness.
The performances are the heart of this film. Lauren German, who actually is not given a lot to do in the movie, does a great job of playing the role of Eva in an understated tone, almost an observer of the downward spiral that the rest of the characters are on. Gens does a good job of showcasing this portrayal which may have been lost in a film that relied on a bigger budget. But a great deal of the story is told simply through German’s subtle reactions. Michael Biehn does what he does best and plays a hardass with a heart of gold. Biehn mentioned in the Q and A following the screening that the character was originally written to be the villain of the piece, but through discussions with the director and improvising within the scenes, he was able to bring forth a more human character. I believe he accomplished this quite well. In the end, the antagonists of the piece were Milo Ventimiglia and Michael Eklund. Both start out as a couple of regular, single guys in their late twenties/early thirties, but by film’s end, have devolved into animals who are more interested in fulfilling their wants over all else. Milo is especially convincing in his portrayal. Having been an actor who has mostly played optimistic and sensitive hero-types, it was great to see him play a character with a great deal of negative qualities. It’s obvious that he really enjoyed this opportunity as well as it shows in his work. I can easily say this is the best performance I have ever seen him give.
After the screening, Lopez got on stage once again to re-introduce director Xavier Gens and actors Michael Biehn, Milo Ventimiglia and Michael Eklund. Xavier expressed his pride on the fact that the film was make completely independent, a move that was consciously made after his last foray into the studio system. The actors discussed their “descent into madness”, explaining that the film was shot chronologically, so to get the effect of being stuck underground for 31 days, the cast was put on a strict diet while filming. The massive weight loss and long work day lead to the actors venting their frustrations through their performances as Eklund and Ventimiglia both attested to. It was obvious that all who were there that were involved in the making of the film were happy with the finished product and felt that all the sacrifices while filming were truly worth it.
With elements of Lord of the Flies, The Walking Dead, and The Shining, The Divide takes us on a painful yet intriguing journey through the human condition with a nihilistic overtone, but does so with stunning visuals and all on a dime. Although I don’t think I would ever own The Divide on DVD, I do believe that everyone should check it out as it is a great piece of independent cinema.
The Divide opens on January 13th in U.S. Cities and is being distributed by Anchor Bay Entertainment.
And if you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!