Genre: Drama, History, Romance
Directed by: Florian Gallenberger
Starring: Emma Watson, Daniel Brühl, Michael Nyqvist
The opening of The Colony will leave you with one question, is Bill Withers’ Ain’t No Sunshine an appropriate soundtrack for revolution and war? It’s all a sad reflection of the whole problem with Florian Gallenbeger’s latest film – is it okay to find some entertainment in real life events?
Emma Watson stars as Lena, a British air hostess who meets her lover, Daniel Bruhl’s activist-cum-photographer Daniel, at a rally supporting Chilean President Allende but when a military coup breaks out, Daniel is taken away for being a lefty activist and finds himself being tortured in a creepy pseudo-religious compound. In an attempt to save her lover, Lena joins cult leader Paul Schafer (Michael Nyqvist) in his Colonia Dignidad but once she becomes part of the society she quickly realises her rescue plan may be a little trickier to execute.The Colony opening feels like a predictable collection of clichés poorly constructed and even poorly acted. While it makes a nice change to document an event in history cinema has forgotten, it does very little to make the opening any more exciting. Yet, once the film shifts setting and begins to unravel the mysteries and atrocities of Schafer’s compound, it comes into its own.
Some scenes make for incredibly unsettling viewing; one particular featuring a group of men abusing one of the female members in order to “get Satan out of her” is particularly difficult to watch. At times it’s so harrowing you struggle to believe human beings could really carry out such atrocities on one another. Richenda Carey’s Headmistress is a vile, manipulative leader caught up in a patriarchy that doesn’t respect her and Schafer’s cult leader drops the C-bomb more than most will find comfortable.
Yet, despite being so repugnant, Nyqvist is the film’s trump card. Played somewhere between Hannibal Lecter and Charles Manson, Schafer commands attention with an uncomfortable gravity in a performance everyone else is running to catch up with. As for the two leads, Watson does her typical suspenseful stare while Bruhl does his best to be captivating, but both are ultimately overshadowed by Nyqvist’s powerful performance.The film’s biggest problem is its central relationship between Daniel and Lena. The director opts to give us no backstory on the young couple, yet it’s Lena’s love that drives her to save Daniel. With only a few minutes together before they are separated, the strength of their love is never convincing.
As the film tails to a conclusion it amps up the action and tension, maybe a little too much at times, making the last ten minutes feel like a Taken movie rather than a thoughtful film based on true events, which briefly makes you forget about the second act’s power and brings you to question whether this in an exercise in history or entertainment. Gallenberger’s film could have easily turned into 2016’s answer to Watson’s 2015 film Regression – lacklustre storylines and unoriginal plot threads – but if you can get past the all too familiar first act then you will find a stronger, smarter film hidden in it’s depths. You might want to leave before the last ten minutes though.
Available to rent with behind-the-scenes extras on We Are Colony.