By Adam Ray Palmer
Today’s review is a bit of a throwback for me as I first covered The Colony back at Berlinale’66. I caught it again last week and thought I’d jot down a few thoughts.
The Colony, or known as Colonia too, is directed by Florian Gallenberger and stars Daniel Bruhl, Emma Watson, Michael Nyqvist and Richenda Carey.
The premise reads like a gripping thriller, but does it deliver?
The Colony starts out as a romance set against the impending overthrow of Salvador Allende's government in Chile and becomes the intense, lurid story of the main characters' imprisonment in a brutal religious cult. It’s based on the actual existence of Colonia Dignidad, a powerful fascist settlement in Chile that also served as a prison and torture chamber.
It begins in 1973 where Lena (Emma Watson), an English airline attendant, has a stopover in Chile, where she's hoping to spend time with the man she loves, Daniel (Daniel Bruhl), a German artist who's lending his talent to progressive Chilean leader Salvador Allende's allies in the politically chaotic climate. Then suddenly, Lena and Daniel are caught up in the chaos when the Allende government is violently overthrown. Augusto Pinochet's military coup overtakes the city and Daniel is taken.
Lena learns that Daniel is being held in Colonia Dignidad ("The Colony of Dignity"), a religious encampment commanded by Paul Schaefer (Michael Nyqvist), a sadistic torturer and sexual predator. Lena pretends to be in search of god and joins the cult to get into Colonia. The latter part of the film then becomes a dangerous ‘cat and mouse’ game as Lena and Daniel try to escape the camp and reveal the sick happenings that are taking place.
The following review is a shame to be honest. I like Emma Watson and Daniel Bruhl and the subject matter is so important; but it just isn’t the movie it should be. Florian Gallenberger positions this film incorrectly and puts the emphasis on the brutality and graphic scenes of violence rather than exploring the deeper issues about the camp. We are left to focus on a couple’s struggles in Colonia rather than the horrendous regime. Plus, the narrative for the central protagonists unrealistically relies upon chance circumstances and coincidences.
Don’t get me wrong, the couple's efforts to escape the camp do supply genuine thrills and spills, but a more in-depth look at the horrific treatment in the camp would have made a more chilling movie. Even the acting at times couldn’t save sequences. Watson is superb in pivotal scenes shaking off her stiff Hermione Granger roots but Bruhl seems to go missing. However, it’s Nyqvist's over-the-top performance as the ‘super-villain’ that really dumbs down the true nature of this difficult subject matter; it nearly borders on insulting.
The Colony could have been a sensitive look at the brutality that occurred with deeper issues explored rather than focusing on a fictitious couple in a movie which seems all about them. This leaves The Colony flawed, empty and bland; just screaming out for another film to better deliver this message. Florian Gallenberger (director) and Torsten Wenzel (co-writer) bite off more than they can chew here in a crammed 100 minutes. Instead of nailing the important parts, the writers take on too much and barely limp over the line with any of the technical areas. The farcical climax is the perfect evidence of how much this film disappoints.
Cineroom’s Rating: 2 Stars
The Colony is now out on DVD – you can buy it on Amazon here.