Divergence (2012)

Genre: Scifi Webseries

Director: Douglas Horn

Written by: Douglas HornDan Southworth

Stars: Dan SouthworthMarta McGonagleCourtney Munch


Here’s a twist: an indie webseries that is not a vanity project. Wait, am I taking crazy pills? Of course it’s totally a vanity project. The twist is that that this project is skillfully produced, has a great story–and I still don’t care for it.

Mark Leonard has problems. The former U.S. Army intel officer suffers from PTSD, paranoia, hallucinations–and people who can disappear into motherfucking thin air are following him. And to add insult to injury, the actor who plays Mark can’t act. Mark can’t get a break! Dan Southworth, who plays Mark, is nothing like Steven Segal: Dan is in phenomenal shape, has a stylishly coiffed head of perfect hair, and is less expressive emotionally.

Setting that aside, the story is very intriguing and engaging. Even though the pacing is a little flat (we are in a constant state of tension, accentuated by grating “sci fi” background music) I kept coming back because I had to know what it was all about. Who are these people following Mark? Why is he special? Why do things vanish into thin air around him? What in the hell is going on?! The story is terrific, and is easily the strongest aspect of Divergence. The second-strongest aspect is the production quality. There’s not a lot here to clue me in that this is an indie where the production is concerned.

The fighting scenes in Divergence are quite excellent for the most part. Dan is a professional Hollywood stunt man, so it stands to reason that the stunt fighting would be top notch for an indie. Dan has worked with the likes of Jackie Chan and Jet Li, and has worked on projects like The Scorpion King, Halo 3, and Avatar. And he was a motherfucking Power Ranger. Represent! The fighting scenes were not perfect though, and there are some awkward bits. One thing that seemed awfully clumsy to me was a scene where Mark is fighting with a bad guy when–suddenly–he remembers he has a gun! Number one, I would have just shot the guy. But the way Mark fumbles for the gun is so clumsy and pathetic I just got pulled out of the flow of the scene. I mean, it just kind of got hung up in the fabric of his pocket lining. But despite the occasional hiccups in the fighting scenes, there are some pretty sick moves here. Dan can move like a ninja when he needs to.

Marks’s girlfriend, Elaine, is useless. She’s always on the verge of breaking down over Mark’s condition. And that’s all she does! If you took all the keys out of a piano, and left just one black and one white key, that piano would still have twice as many notes as Elaine. But that one note would still have that quivering, “baby goat voice” quality that some actresses adopt to indicate that they are on the verge of crying. I’m not sure if that’s an acting choice, or a directing choice, but it’s definitely a bad choice.

One thing’s for sure: the pornstar office attire Elaine is stuffed into cannot constrain her physical endowments. Where the hell does this woman work, anyway? Here’s one for you: Marta McGonagle, who plays Elaine, goes by the nickname of “ChiChi”, and all of the Hispanic people I know (and I know a few, I’m in construction) universally regard “ChiChi” as being a colloquialism for breasts. Let’s review, shall we? Marta McGonagle has double D’s or E’s on her tiny frame, and her nickname is “Titties”. You can’t make this shit up. I am trying my damndest to not objectify Marta so I can focus on her acting but it’s hard to do that when her cans are being shoved in my face. Black skirt with the breasts accentuated in white and ruffles? Seriously. Why not just strap a Hooters tank on her?

While we’re on the topic of the male gaze in film, there is a woman who appears briefly in a bikini and high heels who looks very much like an early 90′s porn star or soap opera actress. I’m not sure what her function is in the series, since not all of the episodes are out yet, but (spoiler alert!) she does appear on the website holding a gun and dressed in ersatz porn-military-bondage attire. Even so, I have no way of telling if there is a reason for her look within the story world, or if this is just a failed attempt at eye candy. It’s not that the actress is not attractive, she certainly is attractive, but the way she is done up is off somehow. Even her dialog sounds porn-ish.

By way of contrast, Courtney Munch, who plays the competent badass, Loris, is allowed to have normal-sized breasts and wear flats–an excellent choice, because it’s hard to kick ass in porn heels. And kick ass she does. Loris is still a clichéd male fantasy, but at least she is a relatively empowered one. Courtney Munch does a great job on the stunt fighting, and delivers the most believable performance of the series. That’s tepid praise, I know; the bar is set pretty low. But don’t let that distract you, Courtney did a good job.

One last character: Mark’s amiable, loyal war buddy and resident tech expert, Tyler, played by Damion Poitier. I like Damion as Tyler, but for a tech expert he seems pretty bored when he comes face to face with a technology that, by his own account, should not exist. There’s not a lot of curiosity behind his eyes. And his laptop is like five years old. I have the exact same model, and I can guaran-damn-tee you this is not the machine a tech expert would be using. It barely does what I need it to do.

Ok, so why am I tearing Divergence a new asshole when I claim right up front that it is skillfully produced and has a great story? Well, that is exactly why. I’m annoyed that a plethora of avoidable distractions, from bad acting, to indifferent directing, to unrealistic dialog, have spoiled my enjoyment of the story world. It’s a good story! When people have the resources and experience to pull this shit off, and yet do not, I get pissy. Now, many people may not get pulled out of the story world because Mark looks completely uncomfortable holding a rifle in one scene. But I do, after all, I am a judgmental cunt. But I also believe that the principles of the Storylistening Trance can be applied to film.

The Storylistening Trance is a theory proposed by Brian W. Sturm that suggests when listening to a storyteller, a listener may enter a trance-like state, an altered state of consciousness that is totally comprised of the story world. Many things can create an entry to the Storylistening Trance, many things can create an exit. I feel that Sturm’s theory applies to the experience of viewing film. All of the elements work together to bring the viewer into the story world. If the film is strong enough, the viewer will not even notice if their chair is uncomfortable, or if they have to got to the bathroom. But it only takes one little distraction within the film, and–BOOM–the listener is out of the story world, back into reality, and off to refill their popcorn. Or in this case, off to noodle around on icanhascheezburger. That is why, in my opinion, it is so vital that every aspect within your story world be perfect. Not “perfect” in an absolute sense, that would be impossible, but “perfect” in the sense that every element builds upon the story world, rather than detracting from it.

And that is why the sloppy ADR and sound issues in Divergence drive me bat shit. In one scene, the sound that was added for a ratcheted screw driver was inserted backwards. Yeah, maybe I’m the only one who noticed it, but that’s one person too many. It’s a dumb mistake. And there were a number of problems with dialog levels. One episode in particular was cursed with very poor ADR and sound levels. Bah!

At the time of this review, only the first half of season one has been released. Despite its flaws, Divergence still has me wanting to know what happens in the second act. Damn your eyes Divergence! I want to let go, but I can’t.

And that my little indies is what a good story will do for you.



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