'The Colony' is undone by cheap visuals and the complete absence of a compelling lead character
The Colony Image Entertainment
Director: Jeff Renfroe
Screenplay: Jeff Renfroe, Patrick Tarr, Pascal Trottier and Svet Rouskov
Starring: Kevin Zegers, Laurence Fishburne, Bill Paxton, Charlotte Sullivan, Dru Viergever and Atticus Dean Mitchell
Rated R / 1 hour, 35 minutes
Now playing in limited release and VOD
(out of four)
A modest tip: If your movie features the likes of Laurence Fishburne and Bill Paxton, it's probably not a good idea to marginalize those two characters to focus on someone far less interesting. I'm not saying you've gotta make those guys your leading men; I'm just saying, if you do feel the need to keep them on the periphery, you better have someone in their place who can command the screen.
This is ultimately The Colony's fatal flaw. In lieu of a leading man, it features, in its central role, Kevin Zegers, a black hole of charisma and screen presence who is tasked with carrying the entire second half of the movie and then some. I don't wish to be mean-spirited toward Mr. Zegers, but he's just an aggressively uninteresting performer, a pretty face with no distinctive personality or attitude. He's not a terrible actor, just an instantly forgettable one. And yet he has to do the heavy lifting in a film that really needs its actors to elevate the material.
Fishburne and Paxton do just that, during the limited time they're on screen - Fishburne in particular. Playing dueling authority figures in a colony of survivors in an icy, postapocalyptic future, the two veterans play off each other nicely, even if the writing makes their conflict all too predictable. The world is in a state of perpetual winter ("One day it just started snowing, and it never stopped"), with colonies of people peppered throughout the land in subterranean shelters.
Briggs (Fishburne) is the leader of Colony 7, which has seen its numbers dwindle due to a flu-like sickness with a conspicuously high mortality rate. When people in the colony fall ill, they get quarantined for a week; if after that time they show no signs of recovery, they're taken up to the surface and given a choice: 1) take a bullet to the head; 2) gather a few supplies and a bit of food and take your chances alone out on the icy terrain.
Mason (Paxton) is tasked with handling the dirty work, but lately he's been taking matters into his own hands. He doesn't give the sick their choice anymore; they bite the bullet and that's that. No use wasting food and supplies on the doomed, he insists. Resources are running short anyway.
Conveniently enough, just as Briggs is about to strip Mason of his authority, Colony 7 receives a disturbing distress signal from Colony 5 - a walk of about a day or two away - and decides to check the place out for himself, leaving the power-hungry Mason alone in control. Of course, technically he leaves Kai (Charlotte Sullivan) in charge, but we know that won't matter.
For the trek to Colony 5, Briggs takes along Sam (Zegers), Kai's lover, and Graydon (Atticus Dean Mitchell), and soon enough it becomes, for better or worse*, Sam's story. Cannibals come into play. And not just any cannibals, but apparently cannibals with superhuman strength and fighting skills, and I assume - given the film's lack of explanation of a key turning point in the story - the ability to leap destroyed bridges in a single bound. (But I digress.)
* Read: worse.
The film works best early on, as we spend most of our time in the underground bunkers, getting to know the folks in Colony 7 - the way they survive, the way their power structure works, the way they preserve fruit and vegetable seeds for use in a potentially brighter future.
There's a nice, run-down, lived-in quality to the surroundings, and the grungy aesthetics serve the story nicely. But once we get outdoors, the limited budget (among other things) starts to get in the way. Director Jeff Renfroe gives us a series of wide shots showing the neverending whiteness of the landscape - just snowy emptiness as far as the eye can see, in all directions - but the CGI and composite shots are all too obvious. We see Briggs, Sam and Co. walking in the CGI snow, against the CGI mountains, past dilapidated CGI buildings and research stations. At one point on the way to Colony 5, there's a shot of the men walking in the snow, covered from the waste down in a snowy haze - and the image basically just looks like someone used the Photoshop eraser tool with feathered edges.
Subsequent shots look similarly cheap. It becomes clear, while the film can hold up reasonably well in the interior scenes, it simply doesn't have the resources to pull off the bigger sequences. It also begins to fall apart when the story devolves into action mode, by which point Sam has become the front-and-center hero of the movie - for reasons I still don't understand; even from a writing standpoint, the character provides no real value.
I'm not saying a better lead character or better leading man would have completely saved The Colony - its flaws, particularly in the second half, are probably too much to overcome - but it certainly would have made for a more interesting journey.