Many times, when I'm reading a news story about a certain movie in development, there will be some sort of sentence saying the project is like "Movie 1" meets "Movie 2" (i.e. The Matrix meets Jack and Jill). That being said, The Divide could aptly be descibed as Saw meets Das Experiment, but, as is usually the case, the sum isn't quite equal to the whole of its parts, even though it heads in the right direction.
For those unfamiliar with Das Experiment (or the English-language, straight-to-DVD remake The Experiment), it centers around 20 people who volunteer for an experiment, where 10 are randomly chosen as prison guards and the other 10 are prisoners. It's a behavioral study that goes wildly out of control, and it's fantastic to watch. There are no volunteers in The Divide, by any means, as they're all there out of necessity: survival. The movie wastes no time at all, as we open on a city being torn apart by what we believe are nuclear bombs. The stairwells of this New York City apartment building are flooded with people trying to escape, although they have no idea where they should escape too. After a lot of chaos, several tenants force their way into a basement room being held by Mickey (Michael Biehn), who we eventually discover is the building's super. When all the dust settles, we have the independent Eva (Lauren German), her kinda-sorta boyfriend Sam (Ivan Rodriguez), the brash Josh (Milo Ventimiglia), Josh's crony Bobby (Michael Eklund), Josh's brother Adrien (Ashton Holmes), the assertive Delvin (Courteney B. Vance), and the timid Marilyn (Rosanna Arquette) with her daughter, Liz (Wendy). At first, this is definitely Mickey's show to run, and he isn't terribly happy sharing his new home with these guests, but he also can't send them off to die either. Mickey seals the door (with duct tape...) and lays down the law, saying no one can leave until the nuclear half-life has expired, and as the days pass, and secrets are exposed, each of these strangers are affected by their own brand of cabin fever in unusual ways.
What I enjoyed about The Divide is it constantly throw you for a loop. Writers Karl Mueller and Eron Sheehan (both with their first screen credit), set up the story in a way that invites predictability, before dropping a few curveballs off the table at unexpected times. After the first five minutes, when they're all getting situated in this shelter, I had tons of scenarios running through my head about where this was going, and The Divide manages to make you think you know what's coming, and then prove that you don't. It's really quite clever, but it seems they take it too far sometimes, and are too busy tinkering with red herrings when they could be focusing on other things. The Divide really has no business being 110 minutes long, because you could easily take whole chunks out of the story (like a meaningless part where they manage to "get outside" the shelter) and have a cohesive narrative. In fact, they set Mickey up as such a paranoid, slightly-unhinged guy, they could have easily used his character to force others to doubt the necessity of their whole situation, which happens to a lesser extent, but it could've been implemented much more effectively.
We do get some really intriguing transformations here, as you may have noticed in a set of photos we ran last month. There are some really impressive arcs here from Milo Ventimiglia, Michael Eklund, and Rosanna Arquette, when you look at who they were at the beginning, to who they become. Michael Biehn is great as Mickey, who doesn't so much "change" like the others, but his true colors come out eventually. Director Xavier Gens does a solid job at the helm, bringing out some bold new sides of his cast, while encapsulating the grime and despair of this place through his visuals, especially with some wonderfully gory moments.
The Divide is a movie which attempts to dissect the difference between living and survival. It definitely manages to work on some levels, with some truly transformative performances, but there is too much narrative clutter along the way.