The Colony does a fantastic job in creating a believable world and scary monsters with its modest budget. The safe haven for survivors is sufficiently isolated. The outside world is adequately hostile. And the fates of victims are gruesome enough. Unfortunately, despite having all the ingredients of a satisfying sci-fi horror, The Colony doesn’t explore the elements far enough and falls short of a truly provocative film.
It’s 2045 and the burning of fossil fuels has increased global warming to threatening levels. Weather towers were constructed to manage the climate, but something went awry and, instead of a burning alive, the planet froze to death. Only pockets of humanity who managed to get into underground structures survived the new ice age.
In Colony 7, led by Briggs (Lawrence Fishburne), the survivors have dwindled down to just a handful of people. They get by with underground farms and by keeping a careful watch on anyone who gets sick. The flu is now a deadly illness, and anyone who doesn’t recover quickly is exiled or shot by the colony’s aggressive enforcer, Mason (Bill Paxton).
When the film begins, Colony 7 receives a distress signal from the nearby Colony 5, which has been uncharacteristically silent for several days. Briggs decides to investigate, taking along Sam (Kevin Zegers), a colony mechanic who was saved by Briggs as a child. When Briggs and his team reach Colony 7, they discover the colonists slaughtered and being devoured by voracious cannibals. And they’re hungry for more.
The Colony has a pretty good sci-fi horror setup on paper – remote location, dangerous environment and a very scary predator on the loose. In practice, most of these elements are executed very well. The underground locations are believable and don’t look cheap. Some look downright expansive. Chalk it up to excellent location scouting. The frozen wasteland of the surface is also well-done, but won’t shake the green screen veneer that coats everything. Thankfully, there isn’t much time spent on the surface, and smart use of convenient locations, like a crashed helicopter, give the film organic reasons to bring the story out of the CGI world. It’s the monsters where the film lets audiences down.
It’s as if the filmmakers couldn’t decide if they wanted to make a slasher movie or a zombie movie. So they kind of made both. The monsters are crazed cannibals, which touches on a concept that fills anyone with dread: being eaten alive. That idea is exponentially made worse by the fact that another human being is doing the eating. Unfortunately, the cannibals here don’t do much eating. Instead, they use traditional implements of death, like knives and axes, to kill their prey. And while that’s still scary in its own way, the film barely touches on the one characteristic that makes cannibals unique.
There’s also some confusion in how the film presents the cannibals to audiences. Conceptually, these cannibals should just be people, who die as easily as – if not easier than – any other person. Ostensibly, however, the film shows these cannibals as being superhuman. They can shrug off artic temperatures, move great distances without rest, and seemingly withstand more pain than average, nourished humans. It would have made more sense if the cannibal group was larger and more feral, overwhelming victims with numbers rather than physicality.
The script could have also used more work. While the story is interesting and adequate, it fails to capture the humanity of the survivors, which would have been a nice counterpoint to the cannibals who have lost their humanity. Instead, audiences barely get to know any of the survivors outside of their archetypal roles, with Lawrence Fishburne playing the level-headed leader and Bill Paxton playing the loose cannon, causing secondary problems for survivors. While there are some hard choices and personal sacrifices in the film, they’re hardly presented in a dramatic way.
Yet, it’s difficult to be hard on The Colony. It’s a film with a lot of pluck for working with such a tight budget, and it manages to present something that is truly engaging. It’s an adequate movie that will definitely entertain. It only disappoints when audiences recognize the film’s unrealized potential.