Review by Sean Boelman
Tom Putnam’s The Dark Divide is the type of movie that adds up to more than the sum of its parts. A relatively standard man versus wilderness dramedy bolstered by a strong leading performance, the journey may be familiar, but never struggles to be thoroughly charming regardless.
Based on the true story of Robert Pyle (upon whose book the film is based), the movie follows a lepidopterist who sets out on an arduous trek through a forest in search of new species of moths and butterflies. It’s a mostly inconsequential story, and there isn’t even much inspirational value to it, but there are enough wild hijinks for it to be worth a watch.
Admittedly, the subplots of the film are somewhat underdeveloped, and that is one of the movie’s more significant shortcomings. Although the main focus of Pyle’s expedition was to research insects, the film also discusses the forest’s ties to theories surrounding Bigfoot, but it feels more like a comedic aside than the intriguing exploration of folk culture that it should have been.
The movie also tries to explore Pyle’s experiences in relation to his grief, but this portion consistently falls flat. Pyle is already a compelling enough character as-is, so all these flashbacks do is cause the runtime to feel slightly bloated. It’s another shallow and generic element in a movie that is already conventional.
That isn’t to say that the character development doesn’t work. Putnam does a great job of writing Pyle as a lovable goof, making the bits of physical comedy effective but also endearing. Still, the film is missing some memorable supporting characters for him to encounter along the way, even if some talented faces like David Koechner and Cameron Esposito pop up.
The absolute highlight, though, is David Cross, who gives a phenomenally nuanced performance as Pyle. As always, a lot of his appeal comes from his ability to consistently nail awkwardly funny humor. And in this case, even more so than in his previous attempts to play a more straight-faced character, his more emotional moments are also very effective.
Visually, the movie is about as one would expect of one set in the wilderness. There are a lot of pretty shots that utilize the setting quite well, but as a whole, it’s very restrained and not particularly flashy. Putnam is obviously a very competent director, moving the attention away from himself and onto the story and setting.
The Dark Divide is a pleasant and funny character study. David Cross delivers some career-best work here, making it more than worth checking out, but it’s also a lovely little bit of escapism.
The Dark Divide hits VOD on November 10.