The Colony (2013)
"When the world changes, the rules of survival change with it"
By the year 2045, humanity has been forced to live in huge underground bunkers, known as Colonies, due to the onset of a new harsh Ice Age which wiped out the bulk of the world’s population. The survivors face troubles controlling disease and food supplies – anyone with so much as a cough is placed into quarantine because a bout of flu could decimate a colony. After receiving a distress call from Colony 5, a group from Colony 7 make the perilous trek to the colony to establish what happened. There, they discover that the colony received a message from another group of people who claim to have fixed a weather machine and have started thawing the snow. The team return to Colony 5, without realising that a group of hungry cannibals have followed their tracks and now lay siege to the bunker.
In many respects, The Colony reminded me a lot of 30 Days of Night – both films featuring decent build-ups in desolate, snowy landscapes and then both falling apart reasonably quickly once the main threat has been established. Fortunately for 30 Days of Night, the film was at least gory and not afraid to splash the blood. The Colony starts out with great promise but fizzles out with a juddering tonal shift when they cross the cannibals. There was a vision here for something a bit grander in scale, but the low budget keeps the impressive ideas in the development phase, rendering the film rather generic and tame.
The post-apocalyptic future is well-presented here within the first fifteen minutes, with the eternal snowy landscapes invoking thoughts of The Thing and its harsh Antarctic isolation, and the underground bunkers and ramshackle way of life being very similar to something you’d find in The Walking Dead. The CGI used for the outdoor scenes is pretty impressive, albeit aided by the fact that the majority of the green screen is filled up with snowstorms. Scenes of the team crossing a frozen bridge provide the effects department with some excellent opportunities to showcase the reality of the situation the characters find themselves in. They have a very ‘Game of Thrones north-of-the-Wall’ type of atmosphere of constant biting cold and overriding evil dread just around the corner. It also helps that the production team were allowed access to a decommissioned NORAD facility in Canada, giving the colonies themselves a far greater sense of realism than the budget would otherwise have allowed. We get a glimpse into the lives that the survivors of this new ice age have had to adapt to, both is only a glimpse and we never become fully immersed into this futuristic setting before the film shifts gears.
The limited creative juices are quick to run out when the film moves into more traditional sci-fi horror territory. The team reach Colony 5, discover just what happened and then make a hasty retreat before things get too hairy. There’s some effective atmosphere as the team search around the now-abandoned colony but once the gang of cannibals make their presence felt, the film doesn’t know what direction to go in. There must be something about gangs of these mutants/cannibals/vampires and their leaders who growl, snarl and scream loudly every time the camera goes on them in films like this – Ghosts of Mars and 30 Days of Night being two of the biggest offenders. The cannibals are simply faceless villains, able-bodied minions designed to be thrown into a number of generic action sequences where the heroes shoot, scrap and struggle to survive. If you’ve seen them or any other ‘under siege’ style horror flick, then you’ll be in familiar territory in the second half of the film, where a bunch of the thinly-developed survivors are killed off, as well as a few extras who were loitering in the background the majority of the time.
The problem here is that it’s not gory or violent enough for hardened horror veterans who no doubt will be making up the majority of the paying audience. There’s a big build-up but as soon as the cannibals start to attack Colony 7, it’s all very anti-climactic. The running time of ninety-five minutes doesn’t drag but considering how much time is spent building up the cannibal threat and the trip to and from Colony 5, you’d expect there to be more punch when it matters. The ending smacks of being rushed at the last minute – “You’ve got a minute of screen time left to round up the narrative” springs to mind.
Heavyweights Laurence Fishburne and Bill Paxton star as the feuding leaders of Colony 7 but both are woefully underused. Paxton fares the better out of the two and the film is more powerful during the opening third when they share plenty of screen time, stares and solemn speeches about how best to survive. In fact, with the murkiness of the corridors, the frenzied action scenes and Paxton looking increasingly worried, Aliens sprung to mind – The Colony plays out too seriously for self-awareness, but I’d have loved some throwaway line referencing one of Pvt. Hudson’s classic lines. Kevin Zegers has to carry the film for the most part and does alright, though his bland vanilla hero could have been played by any young male actor.
I’m not sure whether this was geared towards a sequel, with the ending being a little open-ended but The Colony would have made for a better mini-series than a full-blown feature. There are enough decent ideas floating around and the production values belay the limited budget, its just that it falters badly right when it needs to be kicking into gear. A fair timewaster at best but don’t expect to be blown away by anything on offer.
Director(s): Jeff Renfroe
Writer(s): Jeff Renfroe (screenplay) Svet Rouskov (screenplay), Patrick Tarr (screenplay & story), Pascal Trottier (screenplay & story)
Actor(s): Kevin Zegers, Laurence Fishburne, Bill Paxton, Charlotte Sullivan, John Tench, Atticus Mitchell
Duration: 95 mins