I went into The Colony (2013, directed by Jeff Renfroe) completely blind. I knew nothing about it except that is was a science fiction/horror hybrid. I like going into a movie blind, to tell the truth, because it allows that movie to surprise me. That most movies rarely do speaks either to a lack of ambition on the part of filmmakers or to my own jaded familiarity with movie tropes. Regardless, it's up to the film to break through that. The Colony isn't that film. About a third of the way through the film, I realized that I was watching a zombie movie in post-apocalyptic dress. Well, crap, I thought.
The story here follows the fortune of the inhabitants of Colony 7, one of the few remaining outposts of humanity after a weather-control solution to global warming goes horribly, horribly wrong and brings on an eternal winter. Colony 7's population is dwindling. They're having a hard time keeping their livestock alive, and they're out of medicine to treat even common ailments. The flu has decimated them, and now they quarantine even a mild cough, and exile those who have more serious symptoms. The ruthlessness of their quarantine is a bone of contention between Mason, who is responsible for executing the sick, and Briggs, who is nominally the head of the colony. Mason wants even more ruthless measures. Briggs wants to preserve life as long as he can. Into this conflict comes news that contact with Colony 5 has been lost. Briggs leads an expedition to find out what happened to them. He takes Sam and Graydon with him. Sam is a weary, having just failed to prevent Mason from executing a man who should have been left to walk into the wilderness. Sam has a reason to live: he's partnered with Kai, who manages the tech and science for the colony. It's Kai who Briggs puts in charge of things in his absence, much to the annoyance of Mason. Graydon is young, and it's his first extended trip on the surface. After a long trek through a frozen landscape, they arrive at Colony 5, only to discover that most of the inhabitants there are dead, killed by a band of feral cannibals. In escaping from their clutches, our heroes run the risk of leading them back to their own colony...
The set-up of this movie is pretty good post-apocalypse sci-fi. The frozen world this film posits is agreeably haunting, with visions of ruined cities and frozen wastelands and the constant keening of the wind. The technology of filmmaking has become so democratized that even a film as low-budget as this one has the means to create new worlds, and it uses those means well. The principle settings of this film are creatively used: a wrecked helicopter, a bridge falling into ruin, the two colonies. The two colonies were dressed from an abandoned NATO facility and are conceived after the seed vaults that have been built at the arctic circle in Norway and elsewhere. The weather control facilities that figure in the background are nicely science fiction-y, too. So I was grooving on this as it spent its time world building, hoping against hope that the creativity on display in the background would extend to its existential threat. A monster, perhaps--the movie has a very Thing-like ambiance, after all.
The nature of the threat when it rears its ugly face is a disappointment. I mean, sure, it follows logically from the premise of the movie, but that doesn't make the pill go down any easier. Oh, the scene where our heroes stumble across the cannibal killing floor is effective and ghastly enough, sure. And there's some entertaining gore scenes sprinkled throughout, but do we really need another zombie movie in another guise? I'm happy that the filmmakers draw a parallel between its cannibals and Bill Paxton's Mason, who is only a few steps away from them on the sliding scale of post-apocalyptic morality, but this thread could have been followed in other ways.
Still, it's not all bad. Kevin Zegers has grown into a credible leading man, while Laurence Fishburn continues to settle into a late career as a character actor. Charlotte Sullivan is good as Kai, who exudes a quiet competence even if they damsel her in the end (boo!). Paxton's character is like a summation of the kinds of characters he used to play in the 1980s: Hudson from Aliens all grown up, perhaps, or seasoned with Severen from Near Dark. Paxton has been playing Everymen for a couple of decades now, so it's nice to see him back in this kind of role even if he doesn't invest it with his full attention (perhaps a function of screen time--I'm sure they didn't have him for many shooting days).
There's a good movie hiding in this film, somewhere. It has resources, it's well-shot and well-designed, and it tries to step outside the comfort level of your stock sci-fi horror film. It has ambition. It even tickles my own appetite for eschatological horror movies. But that good movie is mired in the tropes of a contemporary genre that strangles it. Alas.
Current Challenge tally:
Total Viewings: 20
First Time Viewings: 16
Around the Web:
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Behind the Couch peeks at Stuart Gordon's Re-Animator, which is still the gold standard of Lovecraft adaptations.
Eric at Expelled Grey Matter also gets on the Lovecraft bandwagon with a look at The Haunted Palace.
Tim at The Other Side looks at The Coven and decides that it's really not The Craft even if it wants to be.
The Scarecrow over Scarecrow's Blog from the Darkside goes book collecting with The Ninth Gate.