There’s a common truism of journalistic writing that isn’t always true of fiction writing: don’t bury the lede, meaning that you shouldn’t wait very long to establish what your piece is going to be about. Now, in fiction that’s not often an issue, at least on a subtextual level, as layers of narrative sometimes need to evolve over the course of a story so as to provide a gradually more enriching experience. However, a film like Diverge is a bizarre exception in that it buries its central premise and narrative hook so far down within the plot that the majority of the film feels pointless in retrospect. And that’s a shame, because if all the fat were cut out this would be a pretty interesting story to tell.
Diverge opens on a man (Ivan Sandomire) and a woman (Erin Cunningham) silently traversing a barren wasteland. She seems infected with a disease while he is fine, but their situation is deteriorating and there doesn’t appear to be much hope. This largely silent observation is nearly the whole first third of the film, so the real plot doesn’t kick in until our protagonist—who is named Chris, by the way—is captured by a scientist (Jamie Jackson) who sends him back in time to prevent the apocalyptic virus that killed his wife from ever breaking loose.
The film wants to trade on long silences and observational cues to tell its bleak story, but it entirely lacks a hook to engage the audience’s interest. We’re given no reason to care about Chris or his wife for the first half hour of the film, and as they wander aimlessly through the wasteland we are only privy to minor details of their relationship or situation; it’s even impossible to discern them as husband and wife until Chris eventually flashes back in time, and by then the audience is left playing catch-up to a fairly rote save-the-future narrative that could have been established in the first ten minutes.
The real shame of this is that there is a nugget of an interesting time travel idea buried in the third act of the film. Technically, sharing it would be spoiling the one good thing the film has to offer, but the twist that comes at the beginning of Act Three should have been the start of Act Two, allowing a plot that explored the ramifications of the revelation rather than one that hides the ball in favor of pretentiously acting as if a lack of exposition is an artistic choice justified in and of itself.
The resulting film feels almost entirely divorced from notions of entertainment or thematic exploration, instead relying on final moments of emotional investment that the film never expends the effort to develop or earn. Diverge runs from straight-forward explanation and developed characters because to be up-front would rob the film of its feature runtime. There’s enough interesting work here for a short film, but one shouldn’t have to slog through an hour’s worth of tedium just to get there. Allow your path to diverge from this one and find something more engaging to watch.