A film review by Craig J. Koban September 21, 2021  

THE COLONY (2021) jjj

2021, R, 104 mins.

Nora Arnezeder as Blake  /  Iain Glen as Gibson  /  Sarah-Sofie Boussnina as Narvik  /  Sope Dirisu as Tucker  /  Sebastian Roché as Father  /  Joel Basman as Paling

Directed by Tim Fehlbaum  /  Written by Fehlbaum, Mariko Minoguchi, Jo Rogers and Tim Trachte

THE COLONY is a new German-Swiss post-apocalyptic sci-fi thriller that contains ambitious amounts of atmosphere and world building on what I'm assuming is a limited budget.  It's an interesting cinematic cocktail, to be sure (think WATERWORLD meets MAD MAX meets CHILDREN OF MEN) and has a central narrative that involves humanity leaving the climate change ravaged Earth of the distant future to find a new home on a different planet, only to then return back to Earth 150 years later to see what has become of their former home.  Writer/director Tim Fehlbaum has created a film that looks sensational on the cheap on top of having some compelling themes at its core about the nature of class warfare and the dangerous power of colonization.  Not all of it flows together as smoothly as he would like, but THE COLONY crafts a unique take on well worn genre material, and does so with a few nifty tricks up its sleeve. 

And in pure dystopian sci-fi fashion, the Earth here looks in really, really rough shape.  When people left the planet and made a safe haven on Kepler 209 they soon discovered that - after a few generations - extending the species has become impossible, which prompts a crew to rocket back and check on whether they can re-colonize it.  The clock is ticking, especially considering that the current generation on Kepler 209 is getting older and is unable to have babies, which precipitates the mission to Earth.  The most recent attempt ends in catastrophe when the vessel crashes in the what's left of the dried up ocean floor.  Nearly everyone is killed, minus Blake (ARMY OF THE DEAD's Nora Arnezeder) and Tucker (Sope Dirisu).  They both realize the severity of their predicament and the necessity to find food and shelter, leading to them venturing out into what's left of their planet.  To their amazement, Blake and Tucker soon discover that they are definitely not alone and make contact with a wild and nomadic clan of humans that are all under the age of 30.  We also learn that a first mission was sent out before Nora and Tucker's, and it becomes apparent that these tribal souls may be remnants of that doomed expedition.   

As Blake begins to acclimate into these peoples' world - which begins predictably hostile - she finds herself being befriended by a young girl named Maila (Bella Bading) and her mother, Narvik (Sarah-Sofie Boussnina), but it appears that a larger group of survivors exists that live outside of the smaller group and have been taking full advantage of them in a Darwinian survival of the fittest arc.  And Blake finds - through all of this - some shocking reveals in this power struggle that has ties to her family's past.  For the most part, THE COLONY coasts by early on in its tale of dark discovery for Blake and highlights her arduous journey as an astronaut that crash lands in very unknown territory and has to navigate her way through the remnants of humanity and all of the secrets that they contain.  Arnezeder is an arresting presence in the film as far as protagonists go, and she certainly is trying to occupying a genre that has its fair share of tough, rugged, and determined heroines.  Blake has a world weary and steely eyed perseverance, to be sure, but she also maintains a guarded vulnerability throughout that allows for her to have a bit more complexity; she's definitely not a throwaway, kick ass action hero here, and I admired the nuance that Arnezeder brings to the table. 



THE COLONY, as previously mentioned, also looks superb, albeit in a washed out, dim, and grimy kind of way that may turn some viewers off.  Markus Forderer's aggressively bleak cinematography does a bravura job of selling a futuristic Earth of perpetual ecological decay.  The planet looks like one waterlogged hellhole, which makeshift shelters being stitched together by whatever improvised building material is left in this macabre wasteland.  There's a foreboding and dark grandeur to the imagery here, which shows how well THE COLONY sells its desolate world of tomorrow.  I can certainly understand how some viewers will find this film too morose to sit through, and Fehlbaum absolutely is more enamored with generating a mood and texture to his world than peppering it with obligatory action beats.  This is anything but an audience placating piece of post-apocalyptic sci-fi, but that's precisely what marks it effective for me.   

That, and THE COLONY is commendably an ideas-driven sci-fi thriller, and its overall moral outlook on what colonizing is like for both the colonizer and those that are colonized is intriguing.  Blake finds herself on the early receiving end of a less than warm welcome from the humans she first comes in contact with, and in their mind this newcomer is an instant threat to disrupting their way of life (with the irony being, of course, that they are all human beings with ties to the Earth, in one form or another).  There's a lot to be said about how THE COLONY is tackling ideas that are hardly new to the genre (stories of class struggles versus the haves and have nots are as old as the film medium itself), and sub-themes about rich fat cats thinking they have ownership and privilege over other perceived lesser cultures has an undeniable timeliness as well.  Added on to that is the fact that countless sci-fi thrillers of the past have tackled our world being decimated by man-made natural disasters.  What's in THE COLONY is hardly fresh and new, but on a conceptual level Fahlbaum is at least opting for the more thoughtful route through the subject matter versus inundating us with visual effects and mindless spectacle. 

Not everything is well realized, though, especially for how the film begins to traverse down a tricky rabbit hole of Blake's own perceptions of motherhood as well as her fractured memories of her own father (Sebastian Roche), who we learn was in the party of the first exploratory mission back to Earth and is presumed dead.  Sometimes, the screenplay here in this regard doesn't feel as nurtured as it wants to, leading to THE COLONY having a bit of an unfocused vibe at times.  And the villain of the piece (difficult to discuss without engaging in spoilers) is a vile figurehead that begins with noble intentions and is later revealed to be a tyrant that considers those under him to be savages to tame.  It's all a little too aggressively on the nose for me in terms of relatable historical analogies.  THE COLONY is brimming with good ideas and, at its heart, has a lot it wants to say about said ideas, but not all of its commentary sticks to landing in the end. 

Still, I liked enough of what I saw here to warrant a modest endorsement.  I find myself gravitating towards smaller budgeted, little engines that could sci-fi productions, mostly because their more lavish and epically scoped genre cousins often suffer from relative boring sameness for me.  The world that Fehlbaum concocts here is most assuredly visionary and he does bring a level of thankless and impressive scale here with limited resources, not to mention that the performances are authentically grounded (Arnezeder is kind of the emotional epicenter and glue that holds the film together).  The troupes that THE COLONY wades through are ageless and superficially makes the story feel unoriginal and familiar, but I nevertheless found the film engaging and its maker deserves kudos for given this dystopian world a bold look and feel all to its own; Fehlhaum puts it together with solid craftsmanship and conviction.  This is just his second feature film, but it's consummate enough to make me want to seek out future projects from him to come.  

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