It seems like whenever there’s any sort of disaster, people are advised to seek shelter. Often, if the disaster is national news, people are told to take shelter in their basement, as if everyone in the world has a basement. This is a bit of a pet peeve of mine because I live in North Texas, where the land is completely flat and no one has a basement, a cellar, or any other sort of underground shelter. (We also don’t have mud rooms and, in fact, I’m not even sure what a mud room is.)
That said, there’s a part of me that’s glad that it would be impossible for me to take shelter because, from what I’ve seen in the movies, it appears that spending months in a shelter can actually be worse than dying in a disaster.
Take the 2011 film, The Divide, for instance.
The Divide opens with several people watching while a mushroom cloud blooms over New York City. Eight of those people all end up taking shelter in the same basement. While that means that they don’t get incinerated by the nuclear blast, it also means that they now have to figure out how to live together. That’s not going to be easy because it doesn’t take long to realize that none of these people should be anywhere near each other.
For instance, there’s Mickey (Michael Biehn). Mickey’s the one who built the shelter. He says that he specifically built it so that, in case of a nuclear war or a terrorist attack, he could safely sit underground and laugh at everyone dying above him. That’s not a nice sentiment but Mickey is played by Michael Biehn so he’s still one of the more likable characters in the film.
There’s Josh (Milo Ventimiglia) and his brother Adrien (Ashton Holmes) and their friend Bobby (Michael Eklund), three idiots who are clearly destined to end up going crazy before the ordeal is over.
There’s Eva (Lauren German) and her boyfriend, Sam (Ivan Gonzalez), who are both obviously destined to be the voices of reason to which no one is going to listen.
And then there’s Marilyn (Rosanna Arquette) and her daughter (Abby Thickson), who are there because it’s not a shelter-movie without a child being put in jeopardy.
Lastly, there’s Devlin (Courtney B. Vance), who is there to be the older authority figure who ultimately fails to exercise much authority.
After an effectively chilling scene where the basement is briefly invaded by some mysterious men in Hazmat suits, The Divide settles down to be a fairly predictable and, to be honest, rather unpleasant examination of a group people going crazy from the stress of being trapped together. It may seem odd to complain that a film about the aftermath of a nuclear apocalypse was unpleasant and I guess it is. But The Divide runs a little over two hours and it’s so relentlessly bleak and everyone is ultimately so nasty that it becomes a bit of a chore to sit through. By the time the torture scenes begin, The Divide has slipped into Hostel territory and it’s hard not to feel that the film is being grotesque simply for the sake of being grotesque.
That said, the film does have its strength. The shelter is an effectively claustrophobic location and Michael Biehn does what he can with the role of Mickey. When some of the characters end up getting radiation sickness, it creates some effectively scary visuals. I mean, if you ever thought it would be cool to poison yourself with radiation, this film will change your mind. That’s a good thing, I suppose.
The Divide is a very long movie about some very unpleasant people in an even more unpleasant situation. It’s well-made but not particularly entertaining to watch. In the end, it’s easy to feel that everyone would have been better off just staying above ground and getting it over with.