Michael Biehn’s been on my mind a bit lately, because he’s awesome, and because he’s in a picture that just opened in New York called The Divide. The trailer — which I came to find consisted almost exclusively of footage from the first ten minutes of the movie only — set up the premise concisely: a nuclear explosion in “New York City” (it’s not New York City) forces a bunch of people into the basement of their apartment building, where they’re trapped with an axe-wielding Michael Biehn. “Can’t miss” would be a bit of a stretch with that premise, but even the remote possibility that Michael Biehn would chop Milo Ventimiglia in half with an axe, not to mention the intriguing dramatic possibilities of trapping a bunch of people in a room together, was enough for me to give The Divide a shot. I would like that shot back, please, so that I can give it to a movie that isn’t a disgusting, pointless waste of time and resources.
The first several minutes of The Divide are, while not good, not worthlessly awful. After the bomb goes off, everyone — three bro types, a pretty girl and her sensitive Euro boyfriend, Courtney B. Vance, and a mother (who doesn’t start looking like Rosanna Arquette until a long way into the movie, but is) and young daughter — hustles down to the basement, and Michael Biehn struts around being gruff and creepy and antagonizing everyone for no reason, and being very insistent on sealing everyone inside the basement. The movie then spins its wheels for what feels like an hour but is only about fifteen minutes, and then some mysterious people dressed in radiation suits that looked like Marty McFly in Back to the Future as redesigned by Jean-Paul Gaultier come in and forcibly remove Rosanna Arquette’s daughter, freaking everyone out. There’s then a bit of business where the basement people overpower the guys in the radiation suits and lead bro Milo Ventimiglia heroically volunteers to put on the radiation suit, which conveniently fits, and venture outside to see what’s going on. He encounters a bunch of other guys in radiation suits with a startling lack of perspicacity doing experiments on kids not twenty feet from the entrance to the basement. Milo Ventimiglia panics and runs back to the basement, whereupon someone (presumably the guys in radiation suits) weld the basement door shut, trapping everyone inside.
At this point, it’s important to note that I checked the time, because the movie was dumb and inconsequential enough that I was ready for it to be time for Michael Biehn to either a) chomp a cigar and tell everyone about the other exit to the basement or b) start chopping the other characters in half with the axe. In either case, it felt like about an hour and three quarters of its two hour running time had elapsed. But no. We were only forty minutes in. There was to be an hour and twenty minutes more of The Divide.
It’s that last hour and twenty minutes where it goes from being a dull genre piece populated by characters who made one dimension look like five to being something like an assault on both the audience and the very idea that movies are something anyone should care about. The Divide would be racist, sexist, and homophobic if it had any sense of any human being at all as having any worth. It doesn’t even count as nihilism; it would have to present recognizable human beings in order to make the case that humanity was behind salvation, fit only to devolve into animals and die horribly. There is literally no reason for this movie to exist. It works neither as art nor as escapism, on any level. Nothing anyone does makes any sense, and they take excruciatingly long to do that very nothing. This movie’s length should be measured in geologic time. When the whole sorry mess abruptly ended without resolving anything I walked for about a mile through a freezing January night, which was more enjoyable than The Divide because I was moving and had a purpose and no one was being raped. On the subway on the way home I was present for an argument between two drug addicts shrieking the same three accusations of lying at each other for a solid twenty minutes, and that was more artful than the writing in The Divide.
The question of whether The Divide is the worst movie I’ve ever seen is one I still haven’t quite settled. I don’t want to give it that satisfaction, nor do I want its director to think he’s accomplished something. A lot of people think that any strong reaction in one’s audience is a sign of artistic success, even if that reaction is anger, and similarly that shock is a substitute for a genuine emotional response. First, The Divide is not shocking. It’s a stupid, soporific litany of mundane acts of cruelty. It takes a lot more than that to shock me. Second, the thing that angers me about this movie is not that it’s amoral, it’s that it’s so unfathomably stupid. This is not a case of a bourgeoisie being shocked out of his cloistered existence by something cool and transgressive, this time it’s the movie’s fault. And finally, it took weeks, maybe months out of the lives of its cast, even the least talented of whom could have been doing more worthwhile work elsewhere. Xavier Gens, the director, should do something The Divide shows no evidence of his having done at any point in the process, which is think. Think about whether making movies is really what he should be doing with his life. And if it is, he should think about learning how to.
As for Michael Biehn, the siren whose song caused me to crash against this big, stupid rock, we’ll always have The Terminator, and Aliens, and Tombstone. Even The Art of War, the Wesley Snipes United Nations intrigue movie he was in, is looking better and better. He is the kind of actor, with his skill set, who’s constantly at risk of being in really bad movies, like this one. Though maybe being in one this bad means his next one will be extra awesome to compensate. And so, on that note of optimism, I wash my hands of The Divide.