Movie Review – Colony, The (2013)

Canada’s answer to big budget Hollywood is a small budget clone of films like Aliens (including Bill Paxton!), The Day After Tomorrow, and The Crazies. The characters are thinly written, the plot is freewheeling in stealing ideas from other movies, and the action sequences feel largely inadequate for the scope of the film. The visual effects and production design salvages much from the wreckage of this film’s wrongs, although it barely seems to matter when you simply don’t care about the people involved.


– Summary –

Director :  Jeff Renfroe
Year Of Release :   2013
Principal Cast :  Laurence Fishburne, Kevin Zegers, Bill Paxton, Charlotte Sullivan, John Tench, Atticus Dean Mitchell, Dru Viergever, Julian Richings, Romano Orzari, Michael Mando, Earl Pastko.
Approx Running Time :  94 Minutes
Synopsis:  In an age when Earth is entirely frozen, the last pockets of humanity have found refuge in underground colonies; when Colony 7 receives a distress call from Colony 5 – they investigate, only to find the entire location overrun with feral humans intent on killing everything for food.
What we think : Canada’s answer to big budget Hollywood is a small budget clone of films like Aliens (including Bill Paxton!), The Day After Tomorrow, and The Crazies. The characters are thinly written, the plot is freewheeling in stealing ideas from other movies, and the action sequences feel largely inadequate for the scope of the film. The visual effects and production design salvages much from the wreckage of this film’s wrongs, although it barely seems to matter when you simply don’t care about the people involved.


 Apparently, it’s not global warming we need to worry about.

As a remarkable example of a trailer selling a film really well, and delivering something of a turkey to audiences, The Colony remains a cinematic edifice. It’s one of those films with an awesome concept, executed poorly – or rather, not executed to the potential the concept contained. That’s what I got out of The Colony: missed potential. In a post-apocalyptic Earth, where humanity is reduced to pockets of existence, not an ounce of originality seems to have survived in Jeff Renfroe’s gallant attempt to produce a Canadian blockbuster out of nearly nothing. The opening few minutes evoke Alien 3, the next twenty, a combination of Day After Tomorrow, Aliens, and even Reign Of Fire, while the latter half made me think about The Crazies and any other “last stand survivors” flick you care to imagine. The fact I was thinking about these (largely) superior films while watching this one should speak volumes as to the quality of Renfroe’s scripting and production, although in saying that, the other question worth asking is “just how much different could it be?”

Shine a light!
Shine a light!

In the future, humanity is all but wiped out after science used enormous weather modifying machines to change the Earth’s atmosphere. Instead of solving the planets weather problems, it inadvertently caused a new Ice Age, with the entire globe now covered in snow and ice. Humanity is all but gone, surviving as “colonies” in ever diminishing numbers, hunkered down under bunkers, old power stations and other formerly industrialized infrastructure. One colony, Colony 7, is led by two soldiers, Briggs (Laurence Fishburne) and Mason (Bill Paxton), the latter of whom has become weary of the constant battle against sickness and starvation. Colony 7 has a repository of seeds for planting should the temperate ever rise enough to thaw the snow, and one of their number, Kai (Charlotte Sullivan) spends her time scouring the surface via satellite (one of the most implausible elements of any film I’ve seen in living memory) for signs of plant life or warmth. After receiving a distress call from the nearby Colony 5, Briggs, along with Sam (Kevin Zegers) and Graydon (Atticus Dean Mitchell) begin the two day trek across the snow to see if they can help. Upon arriving at Colony 5, the trio discover that the entire population has been slaughtered, although by whom and why is unknown. They discover a lone survivor, Leland (Julian Richings), who warns them of something lurking about the colony – Briggs, Sam and Graydon leave Leland behind when they discover the reason behind the missing colony inhabitants. From then on, it’s race for survival as the trio must make it back to Colony 7 alive, and warn the others about the impending threat.

What Doctor Who's TARDIS would look like in real life.
What Doctor Who’s TARDIS would look like in real life.

You know that old single-line scary story? The last man on earth sits in a room, and there’s a knock at the door. The one which opens the possibilities of endless potential, all of which would probably be vastly superior to The Colony? The Colony has an interesting premise, and delivers little with it. It’s such a missed opportunity, and Jeff Renfroe’s workmanlike direction is better than either the story or the characters presented here, that you almost feel sorry for him. The Colony’s premise is ostensibly interesting, with the small number of humans fighting against constant death at almost every turn. The opening half presents a squabbling, divisive element in Bill Paxton’s Mason, who seems to think quarantining those who become ill (so they don’t infect the rest) and it’s here the film generates a lot of its tension, tension which soon becomes lost once Briggs and Sam go out into the snow and ice. The Mason character, which in most respects is representative of every character in the film, lacks development beyond the most generic, cliched “black sheep” twister, the old bull who butts heads with everyone else purely out of cowardice. It’s this hoary old convention, of presenting only the most base characters possible, which prevents The Colony from becoming something exciting.

Duck hunting? In this weather? Are you nuts?
Duck hunting? In this weather? Are you nuts?

The cast, who spend most of the film wrapped up in overcoats, snow-gear and androgynous costuming, seem genuinely at risk in the adverse conditions, prompting the occasional chill down my spine while watching this snowbound story unfold. The production values are largely good in this regard, especially in depicting the snowy landscape our characters trudge through – the film is definitely one to watch in summer. Laurence Fishburne headlines the cast, although he’s not quite the main character – that task fall to Kevin Segers, as the square-jawed “hero” of this story, Sam – and provides much of the gravitas needed to propel the otherwise limp story along at any rate of speed. His clashes with Paxton’s Mason, highlights of the early going in this film, provide good character grist, although once he steps out to go to Colony 5, this element of the story is lost forever. Paxton provides his best snarling, nasty, gun-totin’ rascal impression, and it works well (again, comparatively speaking) in amongst the rather boring supporting characters. Charlotte Sullivan provides the barest spark of female interest here, as Kai (who, for some reason, Briggs sees fit to leave in charge while he’s gone, making Mason rather belligerent), although it must be said that her role is hidden by costuming and a lack of screen time.

You ever have those feelings of deja vu?
You ever have those feelings of deja vu?

I think the main problem with The Colony is that it’s two distinct films in one. It’s a rescue-attempt-scare film on one hand, and a survivalist-battle film on the other. Much of the film is spent with Briggs, Sam and Grayson over at Colony 5 (or simply getting there!), which leaves the characters we should be interested in back at Colony 7 with even less time to develop than they require. Renfroe never cuts back to Colony 7 during the “trek to rescue” sequences, and only touches base with them via Briggs through a CB radio he has strapped to his back. The giant hole in the story, where the inhabitants of Colony 7 must survive without  Briggs’ presence, and deal with Mason’s increasing attitude problems, are never touched on until Sam makes it back – and even then, the script only provides tacit acknowledgement of events unseen through cliched dialogue and rapid-fire editing. Had Renfroe cut between the Briggs/Sam/Grayson narrative and the Colony 7 narrative, and woven an increasing sense of desperation between the two, it might have made for a more even-handed film, but The Colony cannot survive the lack of focus on the supporting cast for over an hour.

Don't argue with me or this'll end badly. For you.
Don’t argue with me or this’ll end badly. For you.

Although I’m tearing this film to shreds, there are some moments of exquisite enjoyment to be found amongst the dreck. The moment Briggs and Co arrive at Colony 5, you know somethings wrong – blood splattered walls and moody, atmospheric lighting provide some spine-tingling moments of visceral thrills: we don’t know what’s happened, and Renfroe’s canny enough to let the tension simply build and build, as Briggs, Sam and Grayson try and find survivors. In a harkening back to Aliens, the way Renfroe uses the darkness and eerie soundtrack (including clanging, banging and scratching), as well as the script’s referral to “them” and “define alive” will make the hairs on your neck stand up. Unfortunately, the payoff to this buildup of suspense is woefully inadequate, and almost entirely terrible, but in a film full of generic, tired, worn-out cliches, it’s good to see at least a modicum of talent on offer. A sequence on a decayed bridge, over which the returning rescuers must escape pursuit, is generally well mounted, although Renfroe’s camerawork is lacking in definition and doesn’t offer solid thrills.

Sneak up on me?
Sneak up on me?

The Colony can’t quite belie its low-budget roots, and occasionally it looks a little cheesy (a sequence where Briggs and Sam arrive under one of the enormous weather changing machines feels like a matte painting mixed with CGI in one shot, before the next provides a real 3D quality of CG animation, leaving the viewer drawn out of the film wondering about the work on this effect, rather than the story itself) but where it really comes undone is with its truly cliched storyline. The premise had so much potential: who or what wiped out Colony 5 – was it aliens, humans, some kind of new creature evolved from the constant cold? Unfortunately, the answer is hardly new or unique, and the execution of the outcome is less than satisfactory for this viewer at least. Jeff Danna’s suitably eerie score is accompanied by Pierre Gill’s evocative cinematography, and while the film lacks punch narratively speaking, the production itself is relatively well done, if clunky in places.

Implausible, yet effective.
Implausible, yet effective.

If we awarded points for trying, The Colony would score fairly high on the charts. It has all the foundations for a solid little thriller, or a solid little adventure film, or something, but it never eventuates beyond that. Characters we don’t care about, with stakes that seem insurmountable, in an environment as hostile as you can imagine, can’t elevate a pedestrian script above merely mediocre. In watching the film, you’re reminded of other, better films of the same genre, and this is perhaps the single biggest indictment I can mention about it all. The Colony is merely average.


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