By Drew Turney
One of the most interesting aspects of ”Dawn of the Dead” was the shifting relationship dynamics. With more characters, it was explored even more in Zack Snyder’s great 2004 remake, and plenty of other movies from ”Rogue” to ”Assault on Precinct 13” manage the same feat.
But it’s seldom the stated USP of a film, and when it is – as it is in ”The Divide” – it seldom works, ending up too didactic and forgetting to stick to the essential ‘what-happens-next-ness’ of telling a story.
”The Divide” never really falls into that trap, but the first 20 or 30 minutes isn’t as promising as the final result deserves. As Mickey, Michael Biehn hams it up a bit too much as the tough, cigar-chomping building super and the role starts out looking like self-parody.
He manages a New York apartment building when a nuclear blast destroys the city and those who can make it to the basement have the only chance of surviving, from three young, ballsy guys to a mother (Arquette) and her young daughter to heroine Eva (German) and her irritatingly wimpy boyfriend.
Supplies are low and the power is erratic, and as the days and then weeks go on, chaos and evolutionary biology take over. The descent into savagery is actually reminiscent of Lord of the Flies as the group splinters into clans and cliques pitted against each other, and the film’s greatest strength is in the transformation of the characters.
What started as a group of well dressed young guys with cellphones and (presumably) jobs somewhere ends up a group of sickly, shaven monsters dressed in rags and controlling the food supply to trade for whatever they desire. As Marilyn, Arquette is similarly powerful, morphing from a loving suburban mother in a bathrobe to a pathetic and broken sex toy, wrapped in duct tape and painted like a carnival clown for the amusement of the boys.
And as things fall apart, director Gens (who was behind the misdirected ”Hitman” but who accomplishes so much more here with the comparative creative freedom) slowly tightens the screws in every aspect of the craft to heighten the tension. The basement starts off brightly if sporadically lit like a modern apartment building would be, but by the time the bloody climax hits everything is lit in a jaundiced yellow like a castle keep in the era of the Black Plague.
The running time is generous enough to give everyone dimension and the appealing aspect of guessing who’s going to come through and who’s going to fall apart keeps the story interesting. ”The Divide” ends up much better than it begins.