Review: The Colony (2013)
Editor’s Note: The Colony opens in limited release tomorrow, September 20th, and is now available on VOD
From its visually impressive opening vistas to its abhorrently obvious closing line, The Colony is a survival thriller equidistantly caught between the promise of potential and the pitfalls of parallels. Any film—any genre film, especially—is almost by definition expected to tread on the toes of its predecessors; it’s increasingly difficult, a century and then some into the medium’s history, to craft a story that’s not without certain similarities to those that came before. In this apocalyptic effort, though, cobbled together by a veritable cabal of co-writers, there’s an almost audaciously distinct three-act structure with each third unceremoniously lifted from another film, from the community paranoia poached from The Thing to the frosty landscape treks familiar from The Day After Tomorrow to the action-packed finale reminiscent of… well, of everything.
This is a film with nary a character to speak of: these people, insofar as that word can be said to suit them, are but mouths for exposition and legs for running.
It’s somewhat telling that the four credited writers, despite four very distinct careers, have to their collective name but two prior feature credits. There’s little in the way of evident experience here as the small community of below-ground dwellers who’ve banded together in the wake of a new ice age explain their circumstances to each other and remind themselves of relationships for the audience’s convenience. This is a film with nary a character to speak of: these people, insofar as that word can be said to suit them, are but mouths for exposition and legs for running. And that’s no major problem, at least not in its own right: should the running be exciting enough, there’s no reason not to streamline it. But come the closing act, confining these characters to a tight space and expecting us to care, it’s a very large problem indeed.
The twin anchors of Laurence Fishburne and Bill Paxton are obvious efforts to escape the issues of absentee characterisations, a tactic that—though certainly finding some semblance of success—mostly evidences a movie far more concerned with what happens than to whom. It’s a shame, then, that the what should be so fickly fragmented: its three all-but-unrelated acts are the ultimate thorns in The Colony’s paw, making for some fine set pieces in themselves but effectively dooming the movie as a whole to a pervasive sense of inconsequence. There are cuts in the closing moments to the faces of characters whose company we’ve known mere minutes; the movie tries desperately to garner emotional investment without ever making any real effort to earn it.
Like the awfully out-of-place score that does less to add to the atmosphere of a scene than to distract from it, this is a film that never seems entirely sure of what it’s trying to do, and gives the distinct impression that it might not know how to react even if it found out.
Absent from cinema screens for some seven years spent in TV, director Richard Renfroe comes equipped with a commendable capability to stretch his relatively restricted budget to the peak of its possibilities. His heavy reliance on visual effects is never once impeded—at least not significantly—by a lack of fiscal resources; The Colony looks terrific, its haunting snow-capped cityscapes rendered with considerable conviction. What’s less impressive is his shot-to-shot helming: there’s little in the way of noteworthy craftsmanship here above perfunctory scene construction. Following suit on the script as it takes its sharp turns into new generic territories, Renfroe’s direction tends to similarly adapt: a series of stomach-turning whip-pans, for instance, when the material opts to find the horror in the story.
With its strangely separate sections, each almost a short film unto itself, The Colony is a movie that tries not only to have its cake and eat it, but to have another two on top and to eat them too. Like the awfully out-of-place score that does less to add to the atmosphere of a scene than to distract from it, this is a film that never seems entirely sure of what it’s trying to do, and gives the distinct impression that it might not know how to react even if it found out. Impressive effects aplenty amount to efficient world-building, but that’s small use in a world so dreadfully devoid of character.
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