Taking the isolationist horror genre to fresh pinnacles of mind-raping, bizarre surreality, The Divide is now available in a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack from Anchor Bay Films. Scatologically detailing the agonizing social, psychological, and physical deterioration of a small group of loosely-acquainted apartment complex inhabitants following a civilization-destroying nuclear blast, the film quickly departs from the comfortable genre entanglements its earliest scenes establish, flowering into a dark and subversive indictment of authoritarian power structures that leaves no stone unturned in its quest to shock.
Having skirted sudden annihilation by a window of just a few frantic seconds, a handful of shell-shocked tenants find themselves confined to a secret fallout shelter, constructed in the basement of their urban apartment building by its paranoiac superintendent, Mick. With only limited water and food rations, and with Mick wielding access to a locked vault in which the supplies are stored, the group begins to split off into a network of micro-alliances, with some players intent on seizing Mick’s monopoly, and others merely attempting to democratize access.
After a breach of the shelter’s anti-contamination precautions results in a radiation leak, social niceties begin to deteriorate, as eventual deformation and death appear inevitable. With starvation and radiation poisoning setting in, and with nothing left to do but wait out their final hours in helpless, panicked futility, the group’s social dynamic begins to degrade into a twisted carnivalesque of dominance and subjugation from which none will emerge unscathed.
Xavier Gens, the director of The Divide, has cited Pier Paolo Passolini’s infamous orgy of debauchery Salo; or the 120 Days of Sodom as a major inspiration for his film, and the comparison rings more or less accurate. Kicking off innocuously with a vibe reminiscent of more standard post-apocalyptic fare, what starts off as a tightly-wound but somewhat formulaic subgenre entry quickly mushrooms into an insane, Psychotronic orgy of allegoric violence and degradation more than worthy of a post-Fascist 1970s European arthouse endeavor. With its bleakly existentialist approach to the subject of nuclear fallout and animalistic social regression, some may find The Divide confusing or gratuitously nihilistic, but its interest in questions about social control and propaganda appear pretty sincere despite the sensationalistic presentation, and it’s hard to deny that the movie is at least affecting on more than a purely aesthetic level.
Anchor Bay’s Blu-ray isn’t as tricked-out as it possibly could be, and the lack of special features was actually a little disappointing, but it does feature a pretty solid commentary track with director Gens and a few of the more prominent members of the cast (including former Gilmore Girls’ love interest Milo Vintamiglia, who appears here as a hairless, froglike, sociopathic rape monster). The movie’s balls-out pathology and mind-bending freakshow qualities might alienate viewers prepared only for a by-the-numbers survivalist parable, but those with a broader palate and more subversive proclivities are sure to find their investigations rewarded.