There is no denying the wealth of narrative potential in Florian Gallenberger’s The Colony, based on a real set of events that are quite staggering to say the least, as we struggle to comprehend how dark and insidious the human race can be. But rather than get to the crux of this tale and try to decipher the most nefarious character of them all, Paul Schafer, instead we enter in through a side door, and the story of Lena. It’s much to the film’s detriment, making for a far less intriguing slice of cinema than what could have been.
Taking place in Chile in 1973, we meet the flight attendant Lena (Emma Watson) as she prepares to surprise her boyfriend Daniel (Daniel Bruhl) when in the country, as we learn that he’s a very fervent activist, fighting against the repressive Pinochet regime. As a target for the uncompromising law enforcement, Daniel is abducted and tortured by the secret police, left in a confined camp in the middle of nowhere, under the name ‘Colonia Dignidad’ and under the pretence of being a serene getaway. The leader of this cult is Schafer (Michael Nyqvist), who keeps his members as prisoners – and keeps a close eye on Lena, who signs up to try to rescue her partner and help him escape, only to learn that nobody has yet to achieve such a feat.
The Colony is evidently vying to appease a broad international market, with the large majority of the picture presented in the English language. However when doing so the dialogue seems somewhat stilted and doesn’t have a sense of authenticity attached; never natural in its execution. What doesn’t help matters are the mediocre performances by the leading cast – aside from Nyqvist, though he has the issue whereby his character is criminally under-explored. That said, it’s through the character of Schafer where we are able to indulge in brilliantly suspenseful moments that truly leave you on the edge of your seat, but they are persistently cheapened by Gallenberger’s artistic licence, and his willingness to use it, as we struggle to fully abide in what we’re witnessing, because it’s so difficult to imagine it played out in this manner. It’s even more overstated, in that regard, than Argo.
The story, however, is equally as intriguing as the Academy Award winner, though that adds only to the underwhelming sense of disappointment where this production is concerned. While undoubtedly a remarkable set of events, they simply haven’t been presented in the best possible manner, as The Colony is far too overstated and overtly cinematic in its approach, seemingly without faith in the tale being told.