The Colony was one of those movies that crept up on me, hard. The first I heard of it was only about a month before release, which is kind of embarrassing for a guy who tries to stay somewhat informed when it comes to sci-fi. Furthermore, as I mentioned in my Oblivion review, hard sci-fi is a movie genre that’s actually fairly undersaturated, at least compared to other mediums, so my ignorance was inexcusable. Anyways, The Colony‘s trailer had me fairly optimistic. It had a desolate setting and a small crew, which is always a good recipe for sci-fi horror, and it stars Bill Paxton and Laurence Fishburne, each of which are legendary for sci-fi. The last time I remember seeing Fishburne in a sci-fi was Predators, a cameo that was the biggest highlight in what I thought was an excellent movie. Judging from the trailer, I knew The Colony was obviously made on a tight budget, which is fine for this sort of movie. Another movie that was made on a tight budget, and took place in a similar environment, was John Carpenter’s The Thing, my second favorite sci-fi horror anything of all time. Going into The Colony, all I could think was: “please, please let this be like The Thing“. My head was swimming in fantasies of deep cold body horror.
Director: Jeff Renroe
Writers: Jeff Renroe (main), Svet Rouskov
Producers: Paul Barkin, Matthew Cervi, Pierre Even, Marie-Claude Poulin
Stars: Laurence Fishburne, Kevin Zegers, Bill Paxton
Studios: Alcina Pictures, Item 7, Mad Samurai Productions
Release Date: April 19, 2013
The year is 2045, and humans have been living in bunkers underground due to environmental catastrophe. To combat climate change, humans built giant weather manipulating machines, but the machines backfired, sending the planet into a man-made ice age. As Sam (Kevin Zegers), the lead character, describes, “one day it just started snowing, and it never stopped”. Sam’s colony is led by Briggs (Laurence Fishburne), and Briggs’ fellow veteran and friend, Mason (Bill Paxton). Conditions in the bunker have gotten so bad, that anyone who catches a cold or flu is quarantined, lest they infect (and subsequently kill) others. If they don’t recover after a certain period of time, they have a choice between death, or a trek through the snow. Mason has become trigger happy, killing the sick rather than letting them take the trek; his increasing militarism serves as a point of tension throughout the movie. Partway through the film, Sam’s colony gets a distress signal from a neighboring colony. Briggs leads Sam and another young adult to investigate the situation at the second colony. The second colony has been eradicated; blood coats the walls. Eventually, Sam and crew encounter the menace, and the remainder of the movie is spent in heavy-duty survival mode.
The Colony has a light pro-ecological message, which I’m always happy to see, but it’s really nothing to write home about. As any sci-fi fans know, ecological destruction is an incredibly common theme in science fiction. So common in fact, that I’m 90% sure that every Japanese RPG and anime of the 90’s took place in a setting where humanity had screwed up the environment. Maybe I’m just too engrossed in the genre, but is human-induced environmental catastrophe actually a unique concept for the average moviegoer? To be honest, I’m not especially surprised or impressed that the movie tackles this real-life issue. Perhaps if the movie had gotten into the real science involved, and been slightly more educational, I’d have been impressed, but as it stands, The Colony‘s take on climate change is too brief to qualify as a cautionary tale. It’s like when people say, “dude, this band is deep, they write about politics and real-world stuff”. Sorry buddy, but even the most uninformed people can tackle real-world issues; I won’t be impressed unless it’s done well.
For horror fans, The Colony is shamelessly unoriginal. I say shameless, because this movie had so much potential. The acting is good, the screenplay is bland but solid, the special effects are decent, and the mood, atmosphere, and directing are all pretty good for a low-budget movie. So what ruins The Colony, at least for me? I’ll call it the Pandorum-effect. 2009’s Pandorum was one of those movies that had everything going for it. Like The Colony, I had high hopes for it, and everything was going great, that is, until the villains were introduced. Pandorum‘s villains were the worst kind of dull; they were essentially undead humans, although technically they weren’t undead. They jumped around and hissed like any good Gollum-reject should. I can understand the incentive to use cannibals; they’re cheaper to pull-off than more elaborate monsters or aliens, they’re guaranteed to be creepy, and they appeal to the never-ending hordes of zombie fans. However, for me, they’re about as dull as movie menaces can get. My two favorite sci-fi horror villains are xenomorphs, and the thing. Both are extremely original and well-designed. Cannibals in a sci-fi movie, on the other hand, are a sure sign of moviemakers that are afraid to take a risk, or are devoid of originality. If you haven’t yet surmised from my rant, The Colony‘s antagonists are of the cannibalistic variety. Remember the possessed forces from Ghosts of Mars? Well, The Colony features a nearly identical, but considerably more boring group of foes.
I’m giving The Colony a hard time, because like I said earlier, it had a lot going for it, but the cannibals were a huge let-down. If you’re the sort of person who really digs zombie movies, you might not be so put-off by this factor, but even then, many zombie movies have done this scenario much better. The problem with The Colony, is that for a movie that is primarily horror, the action and scares are way too short-lived. The movie could’ve used an extra 10 minutes of action and violence. Unfortunately, the brief thrills never manage to create much tension. There are two memorable scenes that sent a light chill down my spine (you’ll know what I’m talking about), but they were only just enough to wet my appetite.
I’ve spent an awful lot of this review highlighting what I thought were The Colony‘s shortcomings. The thing is, it’s not a bad movie; far from it. It’s exceedingly average, which is too bad, because it could have been much more. No one element of the movie is handled poorly, but on the flip side, there are few standout moments. For all I know, the movie might be more enjoyable to viewers who haven’t seen much sci-fi or horror, but I really doubt my audience fits that description. This is a worth a rental if you liked movies like Pandorum, Ghosts of Mars, 30 Days of Night, or The Descent, and you’re okay with a duller example of the same concept. The sci-fi in this sci-fi movie is basically non-existent, so if you’re looking for a pure sci-fi experience, you’ll be disappointed. The Colony‘s problem is that it’s a decent film experience, but every concept has been borrowed from better movies.