The Movie Waffler New Release Review - DIVISION 19 | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - DIVISION 19

division 19 review
In a near future society, prisoners are forced to perform for the public's entertainment.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: S.A. Halewood

Starring: Jamie Draven, Lotte Verbeek, Linus Roache, Alison Doody, Clarke Peters

division 19 poster

As much as I am loathe to qualify anything the fella says, as Richard Littlejohn once put it, we’re going to Hell in a handcart, aren’t we? Tbh I’m not entirely sure what a handcart is (I want to say a sort of trolley), but a fast-approaching fiery damnation certainly looks like it’s on the cards, at least according to cinema and the telly. Years and Years, The Handmaid’s Tale, Level 16 from the other week: we’re so fucked, bro. And to add (impending) insult to (imminent) injury, here is S.A. Halewood’s impressive and ambitious dystopian prison-drama-come-reality-telly-parable Division 19.

division 19 review

It’s 2039 (only 20 years time!), and prisons have been turned into online telly entertainment where Joe Public gets to vote on what the incarcerated "eat, wear, watch" and… "who they fight"! Ssssh S.A., you’re going to give Channel 5 ideas! (In fact, to be fair, I can imagine Littlejohn loving the concept: you couldn’t make it up etczz).

Division 19 begins with a consumerist tirade from some sort of anarchist attempting to exorcise our corporate infused souls with some harsh truths: we’re stuffing our face while the world burns, and need to ‘stand the fuck up and be counted’ (it’s like the rant from Renton in Trainspotting. A ‘ranton’?!). Homeboy has a point, and with such an eloquently brutal call to action, how could we refuse? Everywhere you look, on massive electronic billboards and projected on to the side of buildings, screens depict the ins and outs of prison life, focusing in particular on the not-very-ugly and very-well-named Hardin Jones (Jamie Draven), whom we see knocking about in a cell, and, in one full frontal moment, having a shower.

division 19 review

You may think that sitting around watching sexy cons going about their daily could end up being a bit, you know, dull (isn’t the whole point of prison to restrict fun?), but that would be to underestimate the transcendent, human pull of reality television. When you think about it, watching actual people in real, albeit slightly constructed, situations makes far more sense than consuming the make believe of drama and the various templates of genre (mind you, you’re talking to someone who lost many a youthful summer to the live feed of Big Brother ☹). Don’t just take my word for it, within the diegesis of the film apparently 17 million viewers watch this futuristic I’m a Prisoner Get Me Out of Here, which pisses all over Love Island’s 3.3 million opener (alas, it still has a long way to go in order to beat Only Fools and Horses’ 1996 Christmas special: 24.35m, you plonkers. Perhaps Hardin should have fallen through an open bar or something).

Some may demure though, and Halewood expands the narrative to include a rebel faction who are keen on bringing down the system, and scenes set in the shady corporate boardrooms of the ‘Panopticon’ telly corporation (which feature Alison Doody as a sexy AF exec - Alison Doody!). What strikes the viewer about Division 19, in a diametric opposition to the insular structures of reality telly, is its scope. I dunno what the budget was for Division 19, but the film never looks cheap, and in every scene there is a sense of cinematic ambition: whether this is in a considered diatribe about what 21st century entertainment entails or the huge widescreen look of it all as Hardin wanders about the digitally enhanced landscape of ruined industrial vistas and proto Western backdrops.

division 19 review

Yes, slight spoiler, Hardin gets busted out of chokey. At least I think he does. If I’m being honest, there is so much going on in Division 19, that on occasion it’s a little hard to keep up and make sense of the full-on moxie of the film. At times, it sort of feels like a supercut of an existing television show’s season, or, if you like, the highlight reel of a reality TV star who has been ‘voted out’: a breathless rush through the slings and arrows of hours of existing narrative. That said, it certainly beats Jeremy Kyle. The pure vision, and uncompromising invention of, Division 19 is both laudable and exciting.

Division 19 is in UK cinemas June 21st.

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