VOD film review: The Colony
Ivan Radford | On 01, Jul 2016
Director: Florian Gallenberger
Cast: Emma Watson, Daniel Bruhl
Watch The Colony online in the UK: Amazon Prime / We Are Colony / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store
You can tell a lot about an actor by their choice of projects. On that basis, Emma Watson is shaping up to be one of Britain’s most interesting young actresses. Hot on the heels of Darren Aronofsky’s Noah comes The Colony (or Colonia), a film about a secret torture camp during Pinochet’s rule over Chile. Harry Potter, this ain’t.
The facts are shocking: in the 1970s, the Chilean dictator routinely sent political prisoners to the secluded community, called Colonia Dignidad (“Dignity Colony”), where they were tortured and held captive underground. On the surface? A harmless, Christian-like cult, led by Paul Schäfer, which saw its inhabitants carry out such duties as laundry and potato planting and harvesting. It’s the kind of subject matter that makes for big award-worthy films, exposing old lies with urgency and, as long as world peace proves elusive, a tragic relevance.
While the conviction behind director Florian Gallenberger’s true subject is commendable, though, his script (co-written with Torsten Wenzel) suffers from being mostly made up: we learn of Colonia Dignidad through the fabricated story of air hostess Lena (Watson) and her radical boyrfriend, Daniel (Brühl), who end up arrested by soldiers following a protest in the streets. With him whisked away to the mysterious retreat, she follows and attempts to infiltrate the camp as a pious convert.
What follows is a mix of genre suspense (hidden tunnels are sprinted along with the rush of a spy flick, while the colony’s sinister staff feel like they’ve walked out of an eerie sci-fi) and political thriller (watch out for a moment that echoes Ben Affleck’s Argo). The more time we spend with our couple fighting the hidden forces around them, the less the whole tale rings true – a real shame, given the nature of the backdrop.
That occasional whiff of contrivance, though, only holds the film back from standing shoulder to shoulder with bigger awards contenders – despite a low budget, Gallenberger creates a believable 1970s environment, balancing the romance and peril effectively for two suspenseful hours. A lot of that stems from his cast: Michael Nyqvist is horribly intimidating as Schäfer, switching between the charisma he displayed in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and a chilling cruelty. Watson, meanwhile, is engagingly earnest in the lead, boasting great chemistry with Brühl. Daniel is just as committed, even to the point of putting on a deliberatly dumb act for the guards without, in the words of Tropic Thunder, going full retard.
The result should be better than it is, but for sheer subject alone, The Colony is better than most. Elevated by an excellent cast, this is an engaging drama that shines a deserving light on an unknown chapter of history. If only it had a little more faith in the facts.
The Colony is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.
Where can I buy or rent The Colony online in the UK?
The Colony is available to watch online in the UK on We Are Colony with exclusive behind-the-scenes extras.