Buzz is an aspiring dancer who wants to join a gang of kids. Together they live in a post-apocalyptic America, full of danger and damage in a demolished society where hope has a hard time thriving and a volatile environment could give way to disaster and tragedy at any moment.
The gang itself seems volatile and unstable, but in this empty desolate world, protection lies in the group. But in order to join it, Buzz must cross an active minefield by himself.
Writer-director Nina Ljeti’s dystopian drama conjures a strong atmosphere of dread and anxiety, partly fueled by how the storytelling forces viewers to fill in the blanks. We don’t know much about what happened in this world or what the “rules” are. Instead, it drops us right in the middle of the action, just before Buzz makes the decision to cross, fueling the film from the start with perilous, visceral emotion.
Visually, the dusty, worn-looking cinematography and hoarder-like set design speaks to a world filled with detritus, scavenged from the remains of a past iteration of society. Random alarms litter the sound design, along with a sonic wasteland of quiet and rattles. It is a world without adults, and without any sense of structure, governance or checks and balances.
Yet even in this vast expanse of nothingness, the film often finds the visual poeticism in this harsh, parched world, elevating the storytelling into something stark and yet often ravishing. And Buzz and the group of teenagers still possess the need to individuate, to carve out their own self and to find their tribe. They still are able to find moments of beauty and tenderness, whether it’s dancing in the last remnants of sunset or moving in a living room to music that the world has long forgotten. They are still able to find hope, and it keeps them moving forward. And the hope of something better — a connection, an emotion beyond mere survival — is why Buzz makes the decision to cross, propelling him into a nail-bitingly suspenseful sequence full of tension and dread.
“Divine Children” could function as a proof-of-concept of a larger sci-fi film, especially since the mysterious, atmospheric world it builds begs to be developed further. But the sci-fi/dystopian aspects of the story are secondary to its attention to its emotional journey, and its often sublime, resonant images. In the end, it is a story about existing in the “in-between” — just like how Buzz must navigate the space between potential bombs — and finding something beautiful in those negative spaces.