This is a tale pre-occupied with re-population and colonisation, ideas that have been entrenched in science fiction cinema for as long as the genre itself has existed. Films including Alien, The Martian and Oblivion have all dealt with eco-systems and human survival, attracting audiences with creatures, horticulture and Tom Cruise in that order. What The Colony does is take the atmospherics of Alien, the horticulture of The Martian and top that off with a gutsy leading lady turn.
As the leading lady Blake, Nora Arnezeder is the heart and soul of the movie. From the moment she comes on screen in the close quarters opening, which sees her plummet to Earth during re-entry burn, she gives a riveting performance. As parachutes deploy and the fragility of space travel is driven home through intimate framing, The Colony promises something special.
Cinematographer Markus Forderer gifts every frame with a solemn beauty, which gives everything an understated feel to it. Makeshift shelters are pitched precariously on waterlogged wastelands, while the remnants of conflict litter the landscape. There is a listless untethered quality to these settlements, which conveys their nomadic nature.
Stylishly realised by production designer Julian R. Wagner and set decorator Melanie Raab, this subtle world building never threatens to overshadow the action in the foreground. As Blake makes her way through this story, these environments add depth and enrich reality in a physical way that you could almost reach through the screen and touch.
Those who inhabit these ramshackle fortresses on the edge of civilisation are defined by the aftermath of what remains. Set pieces are fleeting, fog banks and flood water are key components, while human connections are fraught. As Blake’s father, Sebastian Roche excels, leaning into the tonal palette of the piece as a whole. Tree saplings, life lessons and sustained human connections are framed through fragmented visual refractions. In terms of symbolism, it is one of numerous examples which effectively pepper this introverted mood piece.
Unfortunately, all of the style and atmosphere isn’t matched with substance. The biggest issue that The Colony has is its pacing. From the initial icy plunge into uncharted waters, through to hostile encounters and industrial fortifications things drag. Arnezeder may be a dynamic screen presence alongside Sarah-Sofie Boussnina (Narvik), but that only gets you so far. Independence Day supremo Roland Emmerich serves as one of many executive producers, so it’s almost surprising that there is so little excitement here.
Swedish writer-director Tim Fehlbaum might favour atmospherics over action sequences, but this allegorical eco fable frequently feels dry. It’s tub-thumping allegorical elements and gossamer-thin father/daughter sub-plot don’t quite breathe life into this picture. Iain Glen’s Gibson adds some essential gravitas, along with Joel Basman as his right-hand man Paling. However, the power of their sinister overtones has a limit and both of them are given too little to do by Fehlbaum.
It lacks the mainstream attributes of a crowd-pleasing popcorn fest, whilst also failing to fully engage with more contemporary issues, which leaves The Colony in cinematic limbo, occupying an awkward middle ground. It addresses heavy topics like enforced reproduction, dictatorial cults and cultural misinformation but the execution lacks teeth.
By never really taking a firm enough stance on these issues, it avoids having any significant backbone. Neither fully action-orientated nor fully committed to being a philosophical meditation, The Colony ends up in an awkward mid-space. This approach means that the ending, when it finally arrives, feels messy and superfluous.
That is not to say The Colony is without merit. There is no doubting the ambition, the visuals or the excellent world-building. Tim Fehlbaum has succeeded in making an impressive world, but the story being told in that world feels rudderless. Woolly logic, mumbled conversations and flimsy plot twists also compound that sense of disconnect which could have been so easily remedied with such a strong foundation
What this mid-level science-fiction thriller really needed was more focus to iron out those kinks. With a stronger final act and less milling about in the pivotal second half, this could have been exceptional instead of just an intriguing near miss. Ultimately, The Colony squanders a great concept and never takes it to fruition.
The sci-fi thriller goes for style over substance.