We’ve been destroying the earth for a long time, and sci-fi cinema has served as a kind of echo chamber, distilling and exploring those concerns for decades (from Soylent Green to Waterworld to WALL-E to Snowpiercer). Our planet will be uninhabitable in the near future. Humanity relocates to a new location to begin anew. Were we the source of the problem all along? The Colony, directed and co-written by Tim Fehlbaum, is the result of a repetitive setup of these concerns and a lack of creativity in considering them.
The Colony is a visually stunning but narratively inert film that asks questions about reproduction, colonialism, and communal responsibility, similar to Aliens and Children of Men. Blake (Nora Arnezeder), the protagonist, is reminiscent of Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley in terms of physical strength, steely stare, and tenderness toward children. The characters in the film are divided into rival factions fighting over control of the planet’s limited resources, with Earth’s inhabitants dismissed as backward and uneducated. The allure of space, as well as the potential it holds, is extensively discussed. However, for all of The Colony’s wistful, melancholy ruminating on these concepts, it falls short of providing a unique perspective on any of them.
The ruling elite escaped Earth to settle on the distant planet Kepler 209 due to climate change, pandemics, and war, according to the intertitles. However, the planet is not without flaws: there are no large bodies of water, and radioactivity is widespread, making survival difficult. Most importantly, people’s ability to conceive naturally is eroding. With humanity’s extinction on the horizon, the Kepler-ians launch an astronaut programme to return to Earth. The first spaceship they send back, Ulysses 1, vanishes without ever transmitting a response. A generation later, Kepler releases Ulysses 2 and places all of their hopes in this three-person crew, which includes Blake.
Are you able to recognize a place you’ve never visited? Is there such a thing as an existential inheritance for that kind of knowledge? Arnezeder exudes both confusion and familiarity as Blake wanders around a humid, foggy beach, picking up horseshoe crabs and poking at jellyfish. Her lithe physicality captures a warrior and explorer accustomed to tension and trained to analyze the unknown, and her expressive face reflects those conflicting emotions well. Even with all of his planning, Blake is caught off guard when the planet’s survivors, led by a woman named Narvik, ambush him (Sarah-Sofie Boussnina).
They speak a jumble of languages, carry weapons, and live in nomadic communities, and they have children, unlike the humans on Kepler. Maila (Bella Bading), a young girl whom Blake befriends, is kidnapped when this group of survivors is attacked by another heavily armed group that takes everything they want, including the female children.
Blake’s primary mission is to inform Kepler that reproduction is still possible on Earth, but when Maila is kidnapped, her Aliens-style protectiveness kicks in. Fehlbaum gets another chance to show off visually when she follows the second group of survivors to their enclave of massive, abandoned cargo ships and aircraft carriers stranded on the beach. The Colony, on the other hand, becomes reactive rather than proactive when he switches the film to action mode. While the secrets Blake learns from the second community’s leader, Gibson (Iain Glen), connect to her childhood on Kepler and provide some solid character development, The Colony then takes a fairly predictable path in terms of what Blake does now that she’s on Earth.
The Colony begins as a plaintive visual exploration of what survival might look like if we continue on our ruinous climate path: constant flooding and swirling waters, movable cities built on rickety ships, nomadic people wrapped in outfits that protect them from the elements while allowing them to move freely. The Colony is a haunting world created by cinematographer Markus Förderer and production designer Julian R. Wagner, but it can be too literal at times. Fehlbaum’s portrayal of loneliness is full of thuddingly obvious imagery (Blake alone on the beach, Blake alone in good flooding with tidewater), but the first 20 minutes or so are a disconcerting visualization of loss.
The Colony, on the other hand, isn’t nearly as thoughtful in its character development and doesn’t go far enough. So much has yet to be discovered: How long have the various survivor groups been at odds? What impact does the return of Kepler’s citizens have? What is Blake’s opinion of the societal demand for reproduction? What’s it like in the rest of the world? Why is it that a science fiction film ostensibly about exploring a possible future is so detail-oriented?
The film’s casual descriptions of death, such as “Flood took him” when describing a missing character, imply a life of constant struggle. However, because The Colony is so focused on Blake’s point of view, there isn’t much room for anyone else. With that “ruling elite” intertitle, the film suggests a class analysis but doesn’t follow through. While Arnezeder and Boussnina have incredible chemistry, The Colony does not allow for any queer subtext and isn’t interested in human emotions such as romantic love.
Its concerns are loftier: Is world peace possible between those who were able to flee a dying planet and those who were forced to remain? What if “returning home” causes physical changes? Especially recently, as we approach the deadline for taking preventive action to combat climate change — the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report from August 2021 describes climate change as “widespread, rapid, and intensifying” — nearly every science fiction film seems to be revisiting the end of the world as we know it.
But, like Chaos Walking, Settlers, and Voyagers, The Colony avoids the hard work required to repair or reverse the damage we’ve caused. The Colony embodies a genre that seems unable — perhaps like humanity itself — to take a step forward in imagining a different future. These characters move in a world that is stunningly visualized but superficially conceived, and The Colony embodies a genre that seems unable to take a step forward in imagining a different future.
The Colony opens on August 27 in theaters, on VOD, and on digital rental platforms like Amazon and Vudu.