A film review by Craig J. Koban September 20, 2013  


2013, R, 90  mins.


Laurence Fishburne as Briggs  /  Bill Paxton as Mason  /  Kevin Zegers as Sam


Directed by Jeff Renfroe  /  Written by Jeff Renfroe, Svet Rouskov, Patrick Tarr, and Pascal Trottier

THE COLONY is one of those science fiction thrillers with an initially nifty premise that, as the film progresses, never really knows how to properly harness or expand upon it.  

That’s a shame, because the Canadian financed and produced post-apocalyptic environmental survival flick looks pretty decent despite its very meager budget and does manage to generate a palpable sense of unease and dread in its opening sections.  Alas, the real issue with the film is that it seems like it harbors a regurgitated collection of ideas and concepts from oh-so-many past sci-fi thrillers, so much so that a nagging and overpowering sensation of déjà vu overcomes viewers.  If you’ve seen films like 28 DAYS LATER or THE THING, for example, then there is no real tangible reason to sit through THE COLONY’s latter half, which becomes a bit too perfunctory, stale, and by-the-numbers for its own good. 

Yet, the opening sections of the film do a good job of immersing us in its hellish premise.  It’s 2045 and a new worldwide ice age has riddled the planet.  The climate in the past was getting to horrendously warm extremes, so humanity decided to build vast machines in order to control it.  This was, yes, a big mistake, and when the machines broke down…the weather changed: it starting snowing…and never stopped... turning Earth into Hoth-like planet.  In order to escape the frigidly cold and inhospitable outdoor conditions, humanity fled to large underground bunkers – or colonies – to try to live out their collective lives as best as they could.  The main issue with this, though, is that battling starvation and, more importantly, diseases and viruses becomes inordinately hard.  

Colony 7 is lead by Morpheus himself, Lawrence Fishburne, who plays the by-the-book and cautious minded Briggs, whereas his second in command is the loose cannon that is Mason (Bill Paxton, wonderfully wild eyed and deranged).  One fateful day Colony 7 receives what appears to be a distress call from another colony, which subsequently forces them into action.  Briggs decides to venture out into the cold wastelands with a party - Graydon (Atticus Dean Mitchell) and Sam (Kevin Zegers) - to make the frosty journey to the colony to see what assistance they can lend them.  When the team arrives they find the colony blood spattered and disserted, but they manage to make a startling discovery that may hopefully mean salvation to everyone forced to live underground.  Oh, they also discover why the colony seems barren of people: a horde of zombie-like cannibals have infiltrated it and have turned all of its residents into tasty meals. 



On a positive, I liked the overall look of THE COLONY.  Directed with a relatively assured sense of visual innovation by Jeff Renfroe, the film makes great use of decommissioned underground NORAD bunkers in North Bay, Ontario to fully submerge us in the day-to-day minutia of its characters.  Renfroe also creates a genuine sense of claustaphobia and tension in these well-utilized interiors, and when not inside he employs some pretty thankless CGI effects (again, on dime store level resources) to help further sell the chilling vastness of a world overrun by miles upon miles of snow and blizzards.  Without question, THE COLONY does, at times, look like it's a victim of its own lack of a Hollywood sized budget, but for the most part it looks the part of a consummately polished studio feature. 

The overall narrative seems to betray the film’s strong and crafty production design by devolving into what’s essentially the umpteenth variation of a zombie apocalypse horror film.  There was an option here, I think, for THE COLONY to really delve deeply into its premise of a world ecologically ravaged by the mistakes and sins of humanity, but the script never seems to have an affinity to be more contemplative with its themes.  Instead, it seems more akin to hone in on manufactured and been-there, done-that moments of gory mayhem as the few remaining Colony 7 survivalists must wage a climatic battle against a battalion of human flesh-hungry and feral cannibals.  Renfroe does manage to carve out some good action beats in the film’s artery spewing and balls-to-the-wall violent third act, but there is little in it that we have frankly not seen before…and in better films. 

Cannibals, at least in my mind, are the poor man’s zombies in films like this, and exist in THE COLONY for the purposes of mechanically engineering a threat to the ragtag band of heroes that are already trying to eek their way through life.  The real regret of the film is that it’s essentially a B-grade thriller with some A-grade talent.  Fishburne – granted, with a fairly underwritten role – is kind of thanklessly stalwart and credible in his role of the colony leader that strives to hang on to his humanity in an inhuman set of dire circumstances.  And how crazy cool is it to see Paxton return to his performance roots, so to speak, and play a deliriously unhinged hothead that likes to callous shoot first and ask questions a distant second?  The other performers don’t fare quite so well: Kevin Zegers is brings an earnest vulnerability and toughness to his role, but is rather bland overall in terms of charisma.  His love interest is the colony’s de facto computer genius, played by the fetchingly attractive Charlotte Sullivan, who perhaps looks a bit too fetchingly attractive and made-up to be considered a believable member of a race of people that have been living underground without resources for years.  

I dunno.  I didn’t come out of THE COLONY hating it.  It just occupies that highly awkward middle ground for a film critic: It’s not an easily detestable work, nor is it a film that I can wholehearted recommend that you see.  It has some good, lived-in performances by Fishburne and Paxton, has a fairly evocative and lingering visual sense (you often feel like a part of the wintery environments here), and seems to generate individual moments of disquieting terror early on.  Unfortunately, THE COLONY is a prime example of what I like to call PWP film, or one that contains a premise without payoff.  There’s some compelling ideas at the heart of this futuristic dystopian thriller, but when those razor sharp teethed and salivating cannibals show up…well…those ideas take a back seat to obligatory action sequences involving chases, fisticuffs, and bone bashing mayhem.  There’s a smart film buried deep inside here…somewhere at least. 

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