The Colony (2013)
★★★ / ★★★★
Jeff Renfroe’s “The Colony” excels in establishing a bleak but convincing setting in which the entire planet is covered in ice and the remaining human survivors are forced to live underground till the next thaw. It could have been yet another action-focused sci-fi picture, but what allows it to stand out among the genre, despite its imperfections, is its willingness to take its time so were given a chance to imagine living in the reality of its characters through its eye for detail.
Notice how it gives us a tour of the outpost, also known as Colony 7. While lesser films would likely have relied solely on narration and it would be up to the audience to trust in the words of its central protagonist, this picture employs images alongside the words. Outside the outpost, we take notice of the extent of the ice, the height of the snow relative to the dilapidated buildings, the howling of the treacherous blizzard. Inside the outpost, we visit rooms and each one serves a specific function. For instance, one is dedicated to researching and growing plants. Another is a space full of rabbits. Characters discuss how none of the rabbits would mate—a critical challenge since food shortage looms. And then we visit another place where a woman (Charlotte Sullivan) uses satellite feeds to search for an area without ice.
As expected in survival stories, there are disagreements among members on how to continue living their lives as a small society. Briggs and Mason, played by Laurence Fishburne and Bill Paxton, respectively, are two forces that collide. Through them, we learn a bit about their colony’s rules. For example, when a person catches the common cold or flu and he or she does not get any better, the sick individual gets a choice: to be shot point-blank or to take a long walk in the snow—the person is supposed to die either way. Mason disagrees greatly with the current rules, he considers mutiny.
The plot is driven by an investigation of Colony 5, an outpost many miles away, after Colony 7 receives a distress signal. Again, the film employs details of the landscape and landmarks, what characters wear and how they look after walking for miles on a frozen planet. It makes the walk interesting and efficient—there is never a dull moment when something new is presented constantly, whether it be about the state of the world, a character’s history or state of mind. We are enveloped in this universe and so it is easy for us to invest in the story.
Perhaps the picture’s Achille’s heel is the final act. It comes across rushed, cliché-ridden, showcasing numerous gaps of logic. Take note of what happens to the children who are lead underground during the attack, for instance. For a movie that employs deliberate pacing to establish a specific sense of place and time, the approach is thrown out the window for the sake of standard shootouts. Although the film is ultimately worth our time, I wished the final fifteen minutes remained loyal to its original strategy.