Division 19 review – a disappointing look at a dystopian future
Division 19 has a lot of promising ideas from reality star celebrity status, recidivism and government surveillance, but it fails to deliver on any of them.
Division 19 is the name of a group of hacker anarchists who’ve managed to get off the grid. Anonymity is a crime in 2039, but they’ve stayed low-key. To protect his brother, Hardin Jones (Jamie Draven) agrees to go to prison. There he becomes a celebrity for his fights broadcast on the prison network and a huge brand as viewers are obsessed with his every move.
When a chance comes to escape prison, Hardin seizes it and tries to start over, but staying hidden is a tough task for the most famous face in America.
Controlling this surveillance heavy world is the not so coincidentally named Nielsen (Allison Doody), who’s only concerned about downloads and ratings. Nielsen doesn’t mind keeping the leader of the free world, Charles Lynden (Linus Roache, Mandy) in the dark either.
The plot is frustratingly hard to follow. Director/Writer S.A. Halewood knows where she’s going but fails to make the plot accessible. It feels a lot like coming into the movie a half hour in where all of the important plot points and character development moments have already happened. There’s no catching up and Division 19 simply becomes an exercise in not trying to get confused any further.
Hardin could have been an interesting character, but Draven plays him from a distance so we never really know what’s going on in his head. Roache and Doody are fine for their roles and Clarke Peters (Jessica Jones) and L. Scott Caldwell (Lost) do their best to infuse some life to the supporting cast.
Not that the film needed to go the more showy, action route, but the poster has a surveillance ship blasting away Hardin. There definitely feels like a lost opportunity to fully play up that Hunger Games meets The Fugitive vibe Halewood establishes.
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One of the weirder aspects of the film is the sense that society has improved in the future with lower crime rates, but most of the movie is set in dilapidated slums. There’s something Halewood could examine further, but she treats the topic so flat it ends up barely registering.
Setting the film in 2039 was a curious choice. The film’s budget isn’t expansive enough to convincingly pull off future technology. Billboards seem like they were animated using technology from the 90s. It’s more obvious because Halewood could have easily set the film in the present day with no trouble.
The script’s techno babble would have been eliminated and the video game looking spaceships could have been replaced with drones. To remind viewers of this timeframe, Halewood randomly throws in highly ineffective scenes with robots that accomplish little but show off embarrassing CGI.
Halewood has a good eye for appealing visuals. There’s a number of very impressive shots particularly Division 19’s daring rescue attempt to free Hardin. Sure, that reinforces that all style no substance mindset, but at least there’s some positives here. That doesn’t carry over to the editing, which is choppy and often distracting. Paired with a confusing narrative and the film faces a rough climb right from the opening act.
Division 19 has a number of workable ideas, but Halewood gets too distracted to pay off any of them before moving on to the next one. If the filmmaker is hardly engaged with events in their own movie, what chance do the rest of us have to stay invested?