Directed by Xavier Gens
Starring Lauren German, Milo Ventimiglia and Michael Biehn
Before you run for cover with your neighbors, make sure you actually like them.
Random strangers living in the same apartment building run for dear life as nuclear strikes hit New York City. The only safe place is the apartment building’s basement, retrofitted into a bomb shelter by their 9/11-obsessed superintendent. Only he’s not too happy about company.
This film is almost a study piece on the social and mental breakdown of a variety pack of people locked away for an extended amount of time, as seen through the main protagonist Eva (Laruen German). Eva is a decent audience surrogate, quiet and emotionally downbeat. The audience reacts with Eva to everyone else’s more dynamic developments, with her neighbors including the punk Josh (Milo Ventimiglia) and his friends, the young mother Marilyn (Rosanna Arquette), the intelligent and sadly stereotypical doomed older black guy Delvin (Courtney B. Vance), and the cantankerous building superintendent Mickie (Michael Biehn).
Some of the characters become hostile and domineering over their fellow residents, much to Mickie’s contention. Others become timid and submissive, latching onto the few things they feel empowering. For the most part, all the actors believably portray these characters’ developments, making these relations and deterioration’s feel real. You could easily imagine some similar behaviors from your own neighbors if trapped together with no hope of survival.
However, some of their more drastic breaks feel too quick, almost out of nowhere. This seems to be more so out of the film failing to keep track of the passage of time. It’s possibly an editing problem but more likely the decision not to include (or just forgetting) signs of how much time has passed. It’s hard for the audience to do so without scenes of day or night or without the audiences changing clothes (while running for cover in a nuclear explosion, you too may forget to pack a change of clothes). Nor do the facial-hair-growing cast members show much of a noticeable change in that region (although they do have a razor as seen in the last act, so maybe they shaved regularly).
By the end, we can assume several weeks have gone by (thanks to an off-hand remark). It’s believable upon retrospect, as the characters succumb to symptoms of be either malnutrition or radiation poisoning. Never specifically saying which adds good sense of wonder and fear for the audience – hoping some are malnourished and may be saved and taken care of, while others are poisoned by nuclear fallout and are cooked from the inside out.
The film is a slow burn at over two hours. It’s not generally a fast film either, aside from a misleading mid climax and the actual climax at the end. The film gives the false idea that the characters will leave early on, just to shut them back in to watch them fall apart on the edge of the end of the world.
This is not a happy film by any means, not even in the ending. It’s a view of the post-apocalyptic that’s not often shown, focusing more on the emotional damage of normal people with better comforts than many could hope for, as opposed to leather-clad badasses roaming barren wastelands. It’s not quite on par with The Road in terms of actual people being changed by the end of the world, but if you enjoyed its emotional trip, you should find The Divide to have similar takeaways.