“THE COLONY” (Movie Review)
THE COLONY should, first and foremost, make the vast majority of its audience feel much better about their own lives and choices. Sure, we’ve all made mistakes, some worse than others, but one presumes vanishingly few of us have ever committed a faux pas on par with designing and building “weather modification towers” to combat global warming and—whoops!—accidentally plunging the world into an era of permafrost and endless snow blindness.
THE COLONY never introduces us to these Keystone Meteorologists. The film begins years after they’ve done their damage, in a world where those few who have survived chaos and famine now live in underground colonies, struggling to hold on in hopes of a miracle thaw.
Meanwhile in Colony 7, there is strife. A deadly flu outbreak and dwindling resources has set the two men who founded the refuge at odds, and a predictable duality emerges: The calm, even-keeled Briggs (Laurence Fishburne), representing light, insists on adhering to whatever remnants of a moral code can still exist under the circumstances, while twitchy, impulsive Mason (Bill Paxton) begins to go off the psychological rails as he indulges in a ends-justify-the-means darkness shades of Michael Biehn’s Lt. Coffey in THE ABYSS or, more recently, Jon Bernthal’s Shane on THE WALKING DEAD. Narrative subtlety does not exactly abound in this respect: “It’s not the cold we need to worry about,” the twenty-something narrator Sam (Kevin Zegers) tells the audience via voice over. “It’s each other.”
To which one might reply, Yes, well…the cold isn’t exactly helping.
Nevertheless, the brewing showdown is put on semi-hold when a distress signal comes in from a sister colony. Briggs, Sam, and some poor sap clearly sent along as to serve in the doomed ancillary character role venture out to investigate.
Now, it would be amazing if this was all a ruse to lure Briggs to, say, a surprise birthday party where Mason gives a all-is-forgiven toast…but, no, the trio ends up neck deep in a horde of crazed humanoid cannibals, and we are plunged into something akin to a mash-up of THE DESCENT, Carpenter’s THE THING, and ALIEN 3 spun out across a THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW tableau.
As Colony 7 prepares to make its stand against the pursuing cannibals, two questions arise: 1.) Faced with a potentially existential outside threat and internal tensions, will the colony people choose light or darkness and 2.) Is the cannibal leader wearing Fishburne’s overcoat from THE MATRIX?
The latter, of course, is (sort of) a joke, but the former provides an interesting human dynamic for director Jeff Renfroe to explore, even if it is difficult to dramatize for the simple reason that neither Mason’s reasoning or methods—i.e. preferring execution over quarantine; making prisoners out of those who disagree—are ever explored with the depth necessary to provide even a patina of sympathy. Actually, THE COLONY is the rare film that might have benefited from a little less character development—the first sight of the cannibals hacking up limbs is such a disquieting, stakes-clarifying moment you wish it had arrived a bit sooner.
Still, the last third of the movie provides plenty of pulse-quickening scenes of an implacable foe rampaging through tight quarters. Triumph, tragedy, and over the top comeuppance are served up in heaping helpings, and it’s always fun to watch Bill Paxton chew a little scenery. The storyline may be a little preening, but those who go into the film seeking to be entertained by a dystopia-ensconced-in-a-gargantuan-SnoCone rather than A Very Serious Message About the State of the World will likely enjoy themselves.