French director Xavier Gens really caught my attention with his excellent piece of survival horror Frontier(s) 2007. This was a film that came seething out the underbelly of French new wave horror putting the country right on the map with the likes of ‘Haute Tension’, ‘Sheitan,’ ‘Inside’ and ‘Martyrs’. (If you are keeping an eye on my French Extremity piece on this website, all of these movies will be getting covered in depth soon). Frontier(s) was a really nasty piece of work with foul characters and plenty of degradation as an unwitting group stumble across a family of French Hitler worshipping Nazis domain and are relentlessly pursued and decimated. It is a prime example of what the popular press seized upon to lump in with the likes of the Hostel and Saw franchises and label torture porn but to me it was a very satisfying movie that actually seemed to go a step further and really deliver the goods whilst building up a good narrative and strong characterisations.
There are certainly a fair few parallels between ‘Frontier(s)’ and Gens’ latest ‘The Divide.’ The plot of this English spoken film is quite simple in essence. For reasons that we do not find out nuclear warheads are exploding across the USA and the action unfolds in a large apartment complex. The quick thinking people (or perhaps those lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time) find themselves in the basement of the building and the film involves their survival together. We are left to follow the eight survivors along with apartment caretaker Mickey (Michael Biehn) as they struggle to conserve food and wait until it is safe to get out and see what is left of the world. One of many plot holes is that nobody mentions just how long they would have to sit it out before radiation levels are clear, but I guess if they had known and said so it would have made the whole thing completely futile. Mickey is quick to establish himself as alpha male and is determined to not let anyone get outside the door that keeps them and whatever has happened outside from contaminating their space.
As you would imagine the film is incredibly claustrophobic and it is no time at all before tempers are frayed. Whereas post apocalyptic films such as the excellent ‘The Road’ and the many various versions of Richard Matheson’s seminal novel ‘I Am Legend’ centre on things once the world outside is explored, the stifling atmosphere here is difficult to watch without the viewer feeling a huge sense of uncertainty and dread. The question of what would I do in the situation was in the back of my mind the whole time I was watching this and the answer would no doubt have been get the hell outside see what has happened, take a breath of polluted air and make sure I have one bullet left to blow my brains out, anything but be trapped inside with such argumentative people who quickly set up ‘divides’ amongst themselves.
For reasons I will not divulge here it is not long before the survivors actually have no choice but to sit and wait it out, the option of getting outside is taken away from them. The characters are developed and there are various groups amongst them, prolific are the strong and the weak. Amongst the strong we have Eva (Lauren Christine German who played the hitchhiker in the ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ remake and did indeed take the option of blowing her brains out), the aforementioned Mickey and brothers Josh and Adrien. The weak include Eva’s ineffectual boyfriend Sam and Marilyn (played by Rosanna Arquette in her most jaded sexual performance since Cronenberg’s ‘Crash’).
Things really come to a head over suspicions that Mickey might well be hiding something and a tense stand off means that the rules are changed as is the dominance of the players. At times I was strongly reminded of another literary classic William Golding’s Lord Of The Flies. Sure the characters may not be children but they do tend to act it with their suspicions, cunning and snide behaviour as well as the way the strong prey upon the weak. One of the main selling points of the film to me is that things are constantly on a knife edge, everything is incredibly tense and the survivors are constantly at each others throats. This in a way also reminded me of Romero’s excellent ‘Day Of The Dead’ where the survivors of the zombie apocalypse are holed up in a bunker and are divided between the scientists and soldiers in a very fraught stand off with each other.
It is not the easiest of films to go into in great detail without giving away too many spoilers which I would not do as I would not want to ruin the edge of the seat feeling I got from The Divide. Like Frontier(s) Gens has excelled at putting together a bunch of people with a ruthless streak running through them and ones who are selfless in their quest and incredibly nasty in their efforts to survive. It also really made me wonder what the hell it is that fetishises his necessity for having people shave their hair off in his films. It’s also the second film in a row I have been sent including severe violence to fingers, a coincidence or a trend that is going to continue?
I can see plenty of people criticising this on sites such as the IMDB and sure it is not for everyone as many will be put off by the crassness of the violence and bad taste at the body functions of a group of people hemmed in together literally thrown at the all seeing camera lens. I however really enjoyed this for what it was, a tense two hour character driven melodrama and one that goes against expectations and delivers a surprising excess of extremity.
As for Gens, he is one of 26 directors involved in the upcoming and highly anticipated ‘ABC’s Of Death’ and another claustrophobic sounding ode of survival ‘Cold Skin’ so he is definitely a director worth keeping an eye on.