Set in the distant future, a female astronaut, shipwrecked on the long-decimated Earth, must decide the fate of the wasteland’s remaining populace.
The Colony kept me watching more for what it didn’t show than what it did. A world that in two generations has reverted to bows and arrows? Earth’s bedraggled surviving populace has potential power sources (the film’s original name was Tides), and though the elite have fled, elites rarely remain the brightest and the best, any spark bred out of them. Why is this monotone planet now a graveyard of technology and hope? Admittedly I’m always more interested in the breakdown of a society than its aftermath, the collapse of institutions and old hierarchies that we always knew were built on sand. The endless monotony as a decimated population drags itself on, post-apocalypse, where we find out that yet again the real monsters are us, is less interesting to me.
A French-Swiss production, produced by disaster king Roland Emmerich, The Colony is low key compared to the movies he’s directed, partly because it’s about that aftermath. It’s grim but it also has a rusting melancholy beauty.
In fact my third star is for the cinematography and production design, though that may not be enough to keep you on board. And even I became rather wearied as I peered at the screen, trying to work out what was happening. Maybe it was all to make us understand what it’s like for young astronaut Louise Blake, alone in this watery world that was, to her grandparents, home — but it is also irritating. Mists appear suddenly, the locals emerging out of them dressed in layers of grey rags.
Three astronauts have landed on a vast, desolate, wet beach, and while one, Blake (Nora Arnezeder), goes off to explore, the pod — Ulysses 2 — is attacked by locals and dragged away. When Blake gets back there is only an empty space on the beach and tracks in the mud.
Some kind of climate disaster may have been the catalyst but The Colony is about colonisation, as a privileged few overwhelm a population, attacking their culture, language and customs.
Adding insult to injury, this elite abandoned them to escape the dying Earth, fleeing to a planet called Kepler, only returning now that reproduction has mysteriously ceased on their new home.
The descendants of the people who fled two generations previously are now sending out reconnaissance missions to Earth to see if the planet can be reborn. They have arrived here because of the nearby weather station, the Henderson Hub, which is sending out data suggesting the planet may be healing; appropriately its orange-red beacon glows out of this grey world light a lighthouse beam, a spark of life and hope.
Blake doesn’t expect human survivors, but there are some, scavenging to survive. They live in this watery world in coroding boats, reminders of a once-connected planet, eeking out their lives. No one seems to make it past what used to be middle age.
Blake is taken off to a “village” (more rusting boats waiting for tides to lift them up) where she witnesses the kidnapping of a group of their children and adults. She smuggles herself onto the kidnappers’ boat to locate and free Malia, a young girl she has befriended.
What she finds is a hulking ship run as a kind of kingdom by Gibson (Iain Glen), another Kepler who claims to remember her. Louise really wants news of her father, part of the Ulysses 1 mission, missing and presumed dead. Gibson confirms it; he was killed after siding with the locals, known as Muds, in a rebellion.
Gibson is smooth and polished, a benevolent dictator until people say no. His coloniser ideals quickly become clear: local children kidnapped and forced to give up their group’s way of life and their language (much of the film is in their dialect, untranslated); a small boy “adopted”. He’s surprised at the Muds rejecting his terms: “it was mystifying after we’d offered them so much.” He wants to repopulate the world but Blake has to remind him the locals can repopulate it by themselves.
There are tiny glimpses of what the world was. Flashbacks show her father giving her a pack of matches, made to celebrate 200 years since men first walked on the moon. Aldrin, Armstrong and Collins grin out from its little cover, back when American space exploration was in a hurry to beat the Russians rather than beat the ticking clock of a doomed Earth. “For the many,” says her dad, of what he’s prepared to do, travelling back to a planet that might be dead. He grows little trees to take with him, tiny things, more green shoots of hopefulness than cover for a planet that was once blanketed in them.
Arnezeder does a great line in independent loners, women with no time for niceties, who don’t suffer fools, wary and worn by experience — Louise is another Lilly, her character in zombie Vegas heist movie Army Of The Dead. It works well on this creaking, rusting boat. The child actors are good, Glen is fine as the shifty but urbane Gibson though he’s a man from a million other movies.
The performances are held back by the muddles of the plot though. There are inconsistencies, not so much holes as odd motivations that make the story seem unpolished. When he hears from Blake that she has become fertile now she’s back on Earth, Gibson doesn’t want to contact Kepler, then does; yet he tells her later that Kepler’s ageing population means any returning Kepler women will be too old to have children when they get here anyway. So why tell them to come? He talks about wanting to repopulate the planet but the Muds are already reproducing and always have. The ending is bizarre — what has even been achieved?
It’s a miserable existence, even for Gibson in his little rusting fiefdom, with its power cuts and grimy shower. Still, what the Muds have is freedom: to have their families, and speak their own language, even to breathe the air — Kepler is a dry and arid planet where respirators are required to go outside.
In its gloomy grime The Colony is rather beautiful, even as its flat, unrelenting vistas, shallow tides and moody monochrome remind us wistfully of the gorgeous blue, white and green world it used to be. That’s the point, but you may find it all too much of an endurance test to get there.
Watch the trailer for The Colony: