Imagine living in a time where the government knows your every move and anonymity is nearly non-existent. That is the premise of the Sci-Fi thriller Division 19. It’s a scary thought but not one that is far from reality. The creators of the film set out to explore a very real problem where the government collects data on its citizens and people willingly display their daily lives for others to watch. While the premise of the film is quite promising there are certain flaws that keep Division 19 from rising to cinema greatness.
Division 19 takes place in the year 2039 in an unknown city. I believe this was by design as the writer wants us to feel like this scenario is imminent and that it could take place anywhere. In this not so distant future, anonymity is a crime and citizens who have not registered with the government risk being abducted and made to “disappear.” Crime is down thanks to a government-run show called Penopticon TV where the lives of felons are displayed 24/7 for the world to see. The star of the show is a prisoner named Hardin Jones who advertisers have turned into an influencer to sell their products.
A group of rebel youth has targeted Central Control and Data Warehouses, the two powerhouses of the city’s governing rule. After releasing a prisoner convoy they make demands from the government calling for them to end their oppressive and invasive governing tactics. Their hit also released Hardin Jones who seeks to live a life of anonymity as a free man. However, the two heads of the companies, Charles Lynden and Alexandra Neilson, fear that Hardin will seek to destroy their plans by convincing his followers to rise up against them. After his brother’s capture by Neilson, Hardin decides to put his new found freedom at risk to save him and put a stop to the corporations controlling the city.
I found the premise of the film to be very interesting as it did a good job of exploring something that isn’t too far out of the realm of possibilities. I always find these films to be the most thrilling because it’s scary to put yourself in that world. Another film that I compare this one to is the Purge. It focuses more on horror while Division 19 focuses more on the science fiction aspect, but both films do a great job exploring a concept that is closer to reality than fiction.
The film begins with a long rant about privacy with a seemingly random guy yelling and insulting the audience for being sheep. This, I believe, is one of the issues with the film. Reading the film’s Facebook page you can see a post where the creator explains why she made the film. It’s clear that she feels that data collection of private citizens is a major issue in the real world and decided to make a movie based around this. That’s not an issue as other films have done similar things. However, I feel like Division 19 becomes a little bit too preachy sometimes and its message lands a little bit too on the nose at points. Nobody wants to be insulted and have a message forced down their throats.
Hardin is the main star on Penopticon TV whose influence drives advertisement sales of everything from jeans to cigarettes. All he wants is to be free and live a life of anonymity but he is very important to Neilson and her company. Unknown to him, he becomes the star of Penopticon TV as well as a major influencer.
Hardin’s younger brother who becomes a target by the government because he is part of the resistance group aiming to take down their surveillance policies and oppressive laws. Hardin goes away to prison in order to protect him after Nash hacked into the government’s computers.
Charles is the COO of Central Control, a government agency that polices the city as well as uses drones to spy on the inhabitants. His organization is in charge of enforcing oppressive laws such as early night curfews, no smoking in public areas, and subjecting citizens to background checks through iris and fingerprint scans before doing anything. He sees Hardin as a huge threat as he holds the influence over the people.
Alexandra is the CEO of a television production company called Data Warehouses Inc. She is in charge of running Penopticon TV, a 24/7 surveillance reality TV show that focuses on inmates in prisons, unbeknownst to them. Her newest idea, Newtown, will move inmates to a small town where they can live freely almost as if they are free citizens.
I found all the characters in the film to be interesting, especially the four main focal points. I just wish we got to see more about them instead of just brief glimpses into their role of the film. The other background characters were also interesting in their own right, but they faded so quickly in and out of each scene that you forgot about them and their roles in the film. I just think there is a lot more here to explore than what was able to fit into an hour and thirty-minute time frame and probably would have been better as a TV show.
The acting was actually really good considering that this is a lower-budgeted film. Usually, you’d expect a lot of over-acting or monotone performances, but I was pleasantly surprised how well all of the actors performed consistently throughout the film. One issue I did have was that despite Hardin and Nash being brothers, one had a British accent while the other didn’t. Although the film doesn’t explicitly state where it takes place, nobody else has an accent so it’s implied that it’s taking place in the US. It could be explained that Hardin is an immigrant from Europe and his brother was born here, but as I am a stickler for details it was just something that stayed in the back of my head throughout the film.
As stated previously, this is a lower-budgeted film meaning that they have to work with a smaller budget while trying to make it visually appealing. Overall, I think they did a good job with the special effects and how they shot the scenes. It had the appearance nearly on par with a big Hollywood film which isn’t necessarily important, but it does help the audience immerse themselves in the world of the film the more realistic it appears.
There were a few stylistic choices that I found were strange. First, when the rebels are shown running through the city they’re always doing parkour. Every time. For those who are unfamiliar, parkour is the act of scaling cityscapes in an athletically stylistic manner. This includes doing backflips, vaults, and other gymnastic-like moves while running around rooftops and other city constructs. It just stuck out like a sore thumb because these were supposed to be a group of covert operatives trying to take down an ever-present, all-seeing, oppressive government with a giant floating drown in the sky. You’d think that they’d be more stealth-like and not want to call attention to themselves. Instead of looking cool it just came off as silly. I think if they had utilized it more strategically they could have pulled off the effect they were going for better.
Another issue I had was the pacing, which seems to revolve around the cinematography. There is a lot of time spent on filming the scenery. Instead of story and dialogue, we get shown a lot of montages set to music and scenery which really slowed down the pacing of the film. I think more time needed to be dedicated to plot and less on the setting.
The soundtrack in Division 19 was effective. Many times, films set in the future have the music filled with synthetic sounds and beats that tend to make us feel like we’re on a distant planet or far off into the future. It focused more on the urgency of what was going on instead of trying to make everything sound like it was futuristic. I think that added to the charm and overall aesthetic since, as stated previously, this film wants the audience to feel like this is where our country is headed.
Division 19 does a good job staying within the realm of other Sci-Fi and Thriller films. However, I feel like it fell flat with regards to being labeled as an Action film. When I think of other films like it, I think of the Hunger Games or the Purge franchises. Those films do a good job blending Sci-Fi, Thriller, and Action while I feel like the action aspect was an afterthought in Division 19. The action scenes felt disjointed, fractured, and only lasted a few brief moments.
Division 19 is like a combination of the Truman Show, Hunger Games, and the Purge all mixed into one. What it does well is present a case of urgency for something that’s a problem now. It also warns us of a possible future that’s not all that far away. However, I feel as though the message could have been conveyed a little bit more subtlely instead of thrown in our faces. Maybe the point was to shock the audience into “waking up,” but it wasn’t all that shocking. Most people know that they are willingly giving up their freedom, but the problem is apathy, not ignorance.
I feel like the world of Division 19 is something that I would love to see explored, but in a TV show rather than a movie. It seems like the writer has a lot more to tell about these characters, but had to condense it down to fit into the time frame of a film. There’s a lot of promise and I like the overall theme of the film, but I feel like there was just too much time wasted and a missed opportunity to fill that time with more plot.