Before heading to Hollywood for the wearyingly average video-game adaptation Hitman, French director Xavier Gens made the slick, gruesome horror movie Frontier(s), which saw him marked out as one to watch.
His latest project is The Divide (Momentum), a claustrophobic thriller set in the aftermath of a nuclear attack on New York City. After the bomb drops a small group of tenants seek refuge with the building’s caretaker in the bunker-like basement. Unaware of what is happening outside the beleaguered residents are horrified when their stronghold is unexpectedly attacked by heavily-armed assailants wearing Haz-Mat suits. The survivors unite to fend off this mysterious new threat, but the sense of unity doesn’t last long, and the claustrophobic conditions soon prompt them into a devastating psychological battle for control of the basement.
If Hollywood whispers are to be believed, 20th Century Fox refused to release the ultra-violent version of Hitman that Gens helmed and hired a different director to oversee a batch of more commercial re-shoots. After four years licking his wounds, Gens has proved that you don’t have to dilute your vision to succeed. Every bit as tense and menacing as Frontier(s), The Divide explores increasingly nasty territory as the characters mentally unravel. Although the extreme horror flourishes that typified Frontier(s) have been toned down here, the film takes a demented turn as it approaches the final stretch, with some startling moments.
With an eye-catching role for genre veteran Michael Biehn (Aliens, The Terminator) and a solid array of supporting performances from the likes of Lauren German (Hawaii 5-0), Milo Ventimiglia (Heroes) and Michael Eklund (Intelligence), The Divide is impeccably cast, with everyone bringing something interesting to the table. Far too good to remain under the radar, The Divide is an accomplished return-to-form for Gens. What’s more, the ambiguous conclusion leaves the door wide open for a welcome sequel. Intriguing stuff.
The Sitter (20th Century Fox), follows the exploits of Noah (Jonah Hill, Superbad), a work-shy college drop-out who lives with his mother while he attempts to woo the shallow Marisa (Ari Graynor, Fringe) using a distinctive (and entirely unreciprocated) sex act.
Prompted by his long-suffering mother into taking a babysitting job caring for the unruly children of a family friend, Noah’s backwards priorities see him appropriate the family car and drag the kids on a city-wide trawl for cocaine, so that he can appease his would-be girlfriend. A visit to Karl (Sam Rockwell, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind), an eccentric drug-dealer/bodybuilding enthusiast, sees the evening take an unexpected turn, however, and Noah becomes embroiled in a typically madcap adventure that sees him form an unlikely bond with his strange young companions.
Director David Gordon Green surged to prominence in 2000 with the critically-acclaimed indie drama George Washington, before going on to rack up a series of similarly well-received dramas, including All The Real Girls, Snow Angels and Undertow. 2008 saw him move away from subtle coming-of-age movies with the chaotic stoner comedy Pineapple Express and the excellent HBO comedy Eastbound & Down. The unexpected shift in tone was more than a little mind-boggling, but the sheer hilarity of Eastbound quickly saw his earlier work overshadowed.
Despite a serious mis-step with the disastrously unfunny Your Highness, The Sitter sees Green recapturing some of Eastbound’s surreal edge thanks to a winning performance from chunky pre-diet Jonah Hill. That said, although it is riddled with laugh-out-loud moments, The Sitter is far too uneven to rank as a must-see comedy. Not a patch on Green’s best work, but a serviceable comedy nonetheless.
Danny Dyer lapsed into self-parody may years ago, and now occupies a bizarre position whereby he no longer headlines the very movies trading off his patchy reputation.
The latest blot on Dyer’s copybook is Freerunner (Revolver), which sees him team up with long-time cohort Tamer Hassan for their annual collaboration. Stealing the limelight, however, is Sean Faris (Never Back Down), who stars as Ryan, a talented freerunner, who is determined to break free of the shackles placed on him by Reese (Hassan, The Business), who earns a living setting street racers against each other in violent acrobatic contests.
This time however, Reese and his shadowy associate Mr Frank (Dyer) have raised the stakes, and organised a contest in which the participants will be forced to compete with exploding collars locked around their necks, forcing Ryan into a terrifying game of life and death.
After the success of the enjoyable District 13 movies, alongside the electric opening segment in Casino Royale, lesser filmmakers have displayed a willingness to graft freerunning scenes onto their movies to tap into the vogue for death-defying acrobatics. Freerunner is a belated case in point, and the opening credits gives the game away with images of people jumping over dumpsters and flower-beds and clambering over chain link fences.
Despite the involvement of six (count ’em!) screenwriters, Freerunner’s dialogue is truly cringeworthy, and the cast are left floundering in a sea of cut-price awfulness throughout. Despite the presence of Dyer and Hassan, Freerunner is actually a US production, and was filmed in Ohio. As such, not even die-hard Dyer fans will find much to enjoy here, with the cockney sidelined in a superfluous supporting role. Finding fault with Danny Dyer movies is like shooting fish in a barrel, and sceptics will find plenty of ammunition in this lamentable offering. Ridiculous.