Laurence Fishburne, Bill Paxton, Kevin Zegers, Charlotte Sullivan
(Entertainment One; US theatrical: 27 Sep 2013 (General release); UK theatrical: 27 Sep 2013 (General release); 2013)
We’re all doomed. From the various ways the world will end to the horrors any survivors have to suffer through just to see another day, our fiction is filled with apocalypses and their after-effects, of man showing his nobility via enduring the worst to humanity turning on itself in more and more brutal ways. This is future shock, the concept that the shape of things to come is not filled with technological promise or the portents of a brighter tomorrow. Instead, this significant subgenre uses what lies ahead as a warning, as a way of challenging us to make better decisions now to avoid the awful truths come war, famine, Rapture, alien invasion, nuclear holocaust, or environmental devastation. Within this motion picture morass lies The Colony, a collection of direct to DVD hits hammered home via a mostly unnecessary big screen scope. This is a b-movie down to its multiple narrative melds, fun, but a bit frustrating at times.
It’s 2045, and to combat global warming, mankind has invented massive machines that artificially cool the Earth’s surface. Eventually, the technology fails and it starts snowing…and it never stops. The last remaining humans leave the frozen confines of the planet’s topside and create colonies deep underground. One of these installations, Colony 7, is overseen by ex-military men Briggs (Laurence Fishburne) and Mason (Bill Paxton). The former does everything by the group’s self-penned rules. The latter wants to do whatever he sees fit to survive. One day, a younger member of the team (Kevin Zegers) goes with Briggs and another young man to answer a distress signal from Colony 5. When they arrive, they witness something horrible, something that won’t rest until it captures Colony 7 and destroys everything in its as well.
If you took a bit of pro-ecology eulogizing, sprinkled in a serving of “good vs. bad” people in peril histrionics, toss in a tired notion of there being some salvation up ahead, and then marinate in a mixture of taboo terror tropes (the main one being…oops, but that would give the big reveal away) and you’ve got the start for a Colony stew. In fact, you could probably call this film Frozen Waterworld and get a decent idea of what you’re in for.
No, there’s no main hero who has adapted to the post-freeze situation and is living off the land. No, there’s no little girl with a clue to how to get to heat, warmth, and fertile, tillable soil. There’s a main female love interest, but she’s left behind early and only shows up at the end to act as a damsel in distress and the villains are varied, from an ex-GI with a major power struggle chip on his shoulder to a horrific human visage with razor pointed teeth and a taste for (ah…ah…ah…no clues as to the baddies comestible of choice). Add in a little CG blood and gore, some decent action sequences, and a nice bit involving a deserted cityscape and a partially decimated bridge and you’ve got the makings of a decent night at the flat screen…if it was 1989.
Indeed, The Colony feels like a throwback, and not in the best possible definition of that concept. It takes itself too seriously, introducing us to the new post-ice social order which sees the ill castigated to either a walk into the wilderness or take a bullet to the head, where food and a proper diet are hard to come by, where science is shuttled aside for some “might makes right” prostylitizing and everyone carries an automatic weapon and is loaded for bear. Of course, none of this matters when confronted with the reality of people who’ve been drive to the point of…something…in order to fill their bellies. It also doesn’t address the various narrative contrivances needed to sell us this speculation.
First of all, why would only three people go to Colony 5 to “help?” Why not send more, especially a quick trigger firebrand like Paxton’s Mason? And why “help” another Colony anyway? What do they have to offer that would have you threaten your own existence? And how did these baddies get across the bridge once it was, well, “disabled?” Does rabid hunger make you capable of flying 40 to 50 feet through the air from one side of the tarmac to the other? And why does their particular personal people “penchant” turn them into extras from 30 Days of Night or The Descent? When a plane lands in the mountains or a group is castaway on an island, the extremes they go to for survival don’t turn the many into monsters (I am sure you’ve guessed the secret by now…).
Still, director Jeff Renfroe does a decent job of juggling these various elements, doing so in such a way as to effectively avoid most of the plentiful plot holes. Besides, it’s a hoot to see Fishburne, decked out in a massive parka and other cold weather accoutrements, revisiting his Matrix moments while wielding a sword against an oncoming throng. For his part, Zegers’ character is nothing more than a device, a catalyst to get us, the audience, from one precarious predicament to another and Paxton is so typical that he should be presented as a primer on how to create and essay such moldy old archetypes. In fact, much of The Colony could become a learning manual for those who want to make cheap, low-budget fare. It’s silly and schlocky, but it’s decent goofiness.
It’s all a question of expectations. Go in thinking that Renfroe and his cast will be giving you a solid, A-list experience and you’ll be disappointed. Accept the fact that this is basically a small scale attempt at something epic, a derivative distraction formed out of several genre givens and you’ll have a much better time. In fact, The Colony would definitely fit into a Saturday night viewing experience complete with friends, food, and some pharmaceuticals of choice, and you don’t have to scour the bottom shelf of some dingy Mom and Pop video store to find it. While it won’t win any awards for originality or style, The Colony does what it’s supposed to do…and nothing more. Nothing.