Despite having an interesting and satirical concept that critiques the power of consumerism and the motives of corporations in a ‘Truman Show’ (1998) style, the initial lack of focus on a lead character – and then going on to follow someone with no character at all and not enough charisma to carry the film – is its biggest downfall. When it finally gets to Hardin’s journey, it’s so slow-paced and feels so pointless that his lack of contact with anyone else and his seemingly endless brooding around while avoiding detection gets incredibly frustrating. It felt slow-paced to the point where it took a few nights to finish watching (and this is only 90 minutes long).
It has to be mentioned that for an indie sci-fi film, the special effects are done well and you can also appreciate the filming locations which certainly evoke a dry, dystopian tone. ‘Division 19’ definitely looks the part and has the cynical ideas of the future to match, but possibly a bit too much. There’s plenty of themes surrounding autonomy, free will and the monetisation of people’s lives which we are seeing more and more these days in the online community, but the script lacks the wit to take full advantage of any of the characters (it didn’t seem like we learn anything about our protagonist), although there are a few good satirical moments that are worthy of a laugh such as the adopt a prisoner advert. The cast weren’t given much to work with; I wished Barca (Toby Hemingway) had been the main protagonist as he had the most appeal to me with all his angst, and even Linus Roache (who recently showed off the extent of his talent in ‘Mandy’ (2018)) as Charles Lynden feels criminally underutilised.
Overall, although some of the ideas trying to come through in ‘Division 19’ can be appreciated, the lack of personality in any of the characters and lack of focus makes it a challenging watch. It also seems so empty in terms of plot until it’s too late that there’s nothing to fill the void in the middle – and then it still manages to be confusing in the very last scene. Although it is a visually well-made film, the foundation of it in the script is where it goes completely wrong. It’s like a first draft, and one that the improvements needed were so obvious that this makes it all the more frustrating it didn’t reach its full potential.