THE COLONY: When People Are Desperate, They’ll Do Horrible Things to Survive

The Colony Poster

The Colony (2013) – Directed by Jeff Renfroe – Starring Laurence Fishburne, Bill Paxton, Kevin Zegers, Atticus Dean Mitchell, Michael Mando, and Charlotte Sullivan.

There are two ways to look at a film like THE COLONY.

The first is to say that it’s a reasonably well made, but predictable and derivative post-apocalyptic sci-fi horror film.

The second is to say that it’s not the kind of movie you’re likely to even attempt to watch unless you’re looking for a reasonably well made, but predictable and derivative post-apolalyptic sic-fi horror film to watch.

THE COLONY has minimal, type-driven characters sitting in an underground (well, under the ice) station where all the hallways are dimly lit and lined with metal pipes, water drips everywhere, and the color palette runs from a dull grey to a robust grey. There’s the wizened leader, Briggs (Laurence Fishburne), the overly violent, second-in command, Mason (Bill Paxton), and the idealist young pup, Sam (Kevin Zegers). There are other people who exist to either get shot, sacrifice themselves, ask questions, scream, or fill up space. There are monsters in the dark who might as well have wandered off the set of 30 Days of Night or Doomsday or whatever.

Coming in at a trim 93 minutes, THE COLONY is over before you have time to get bored with it.

That’s perhaps a too-harsh judgment because I enjoyed THE COLONY for what it is – a chance to see Fishburne and Paxton in a reasonably well made, but predictable and derivative post-apocalyptic sci-fi horror film.

There’s a real run down quality to the characters in the film that I like. Sam might be a bit idealistic when it comes to how the Colony is governed (he does not like how Mason executes the infected Colonists instead of allowing them to walk off into the snow) but he’s stopped worrying about how the world came to be what it is. “It started snowing one day,” he explains, “and it never stopped. Much like the recent reviewed The Purge, THE COLONY has some interesting cultural ideas that it touches on but moves quickly past to get to the action.

As a result of this decision, THE COLONY damns itself to mediocrity by not attempting to be anything more than a reasonably well made, but predictable and derivative post-apocalyptic sci-fi horror film.

When a distress call comes in from Colony 5, Briggs decides he’s going to take a team of two people to go check it out. Sam volunteers and then when no one else steps up, so Graydon (Atticus Dean Mitchell) does, despite being young and inexperienced and with worrisome parents and-

Yeah, you know he’s not long for this world.

THE COLONY shines brightest when it’s outside, in the snow. The film moves like this: Colony 7 -> outside walk -> Colony 5 – reverse walk -> Colony 7. The scenes outside might look like something leftover from The Day After Tomorrow shoot, but directer Jeff Renfroe uses these scenes wonderfully to balance the cramped nature of the facility sequences. On the outbound route, we get some nice interplay between Briggs, Sam, and Graydon (people in films are given names like Graydon because somebody in financing has a dog named Graydon, right?). I really like the scenes on the helicopter and the bridge, and if the film had given us just a bit more personality, maybe THE COLONY would be a bit more than a reasonably well made, but predictable and derivative post-apocalyptic sci-fi horror film.

Fishburne is one of my favorite actors because the dude is always professional in his performances, even if it’s in a film that looks pretty clearly headed to home viewing. He gives Briggs the right amount of gravitas and backbone, and even if Briggs isn’t a particularly bright leader, he’s not a poorly written character.

The same can’t be said for Mason, who’s so overblown it’s hard to watch Paxton try to add any kind of nuance to the performance. Paxton can do overblown, of course (see Weird Science and Aliens), but after his terrific run as a double (triple) agent in Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD over the past two months, it’s unfortunate to see him back to playing a variation of the Chet and Private Hudson theme.

The only real complaint I have with THE COLONY is that we don’t get enough of Paxton and Fishburne on the screen at the same time. Instead, Renfroe splits their time. After a few brief scenes early on, the film is carried by Fishburne until his character sacrifices himself to stop the cannibal horde they found in Colony 5 from crossing the bridge. After that, it’s whackadoo Paxton bringing us home.

I know I’ve had some fun calling THE COLONY a reasonably well made, but predictable and derivative post-apocalyptic sci-fi horror film, but I have a lot of respect for movies like THE COLONY and the work people put in to make it. Located somewhere between Hollywood and the Asylum, THE COLONY looks good, moves fast, puts the emphasis on the struggle to survive rather than the screaming cannibals. (Aside – is it just me, or does everyone think of Peter Garrett singing “Beds are Burning” every time a screaming tall cannibal shows up in a movie? Also, I miss Midnight Oil.) Jeff Renfroe is normally a television director, but I was really impressed with his work in this feature production. There’s not a lot of places to put your camera inside a cramped facility, but he manages to play with angles and distance to heighten dramatic tension.

Would I like to have seen some of the characters fleshed out more? Would I like to have seen more nuance? Would I like the villains to be something other than bloodthirsty cannibals? Sure, sure, and sure, but THE COLONY delivers what it promises, and I am not in the least bit disappointed that I watched this reasonably well made, but predictable and derivative post-apocalyptic sci-fi horror film.

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