I like a good genre mashup as much as the next horror fan, but I’ve never understood why comedy seems to be the default choice. The market is saturated with lame carbon copy horror/comedies, most of which are all but unwatchable. It seems to me that sci-fi is a much better fit. Maybe it’s the ever-pervasive influence of Ridley Scott’s terrifying 1979 classic ALIEN, which, almost thirty five years later, is still the best at what it does. The sequels, although inferior, boast their share of chills, and 1997’s EVENT HORIZON, a rare high point on director Paul W.S. Anderson’s CV, is another fine example. Which brings us to the subject of today’s inane ramblings, director Jeff Renfroe’s sci-fi/horror hybrid THE COLONY. While it’s considerably more enjoyable than the vast majority of primitive ‘comedy’ mashups cluttering the shelves, it’s a far cry from the best the form has to offer.
Earth, thirty years from now. The planet is covered in a blanket of snow and humanity lives in underground Colonies, where life is a constant struggle for survival. After picking up a distress signal from a neighbouring Colony, Briggs (Laurence Fishburne) and Sam (Kevin Zegers) set out to investigate...
More than any other genre, plot holes are endemic to sci-fi. When you’re dealing with reality-defying concepts such as time travel, aliens and deep space exploration, there comes a point where things are going to stop making sense. THE COLONY is less ambitious than many of its peers, but no more cogent. It probably doesn’t help that a staggering six writers were involved in the screenplay (which is all the more surprising when you consider how thin the plot is), but ultimately the blame must lie with Renfroe. He simply doesn’t do a good enough job of explaining things. We’re informed by means of the now-traditional voiceover that the planet has been plunged into a new ice age, and what few survivors remain have been forced into underground bunkers, where they attempt in vain to breed livestock and cultivate crops. There’s also some guff about malfunctioning weather machines (which later becomes a significant plot point), about which we learn next to nothing. What we do learn is that the colonists ‘live in fear of the common cold.’ The biggest threat to survival, it seems, isn’t the hostile environment or Bill Paxton’s powertripping, gleefully homicidal commandant, it’s a touch of flu. Quite what the link is between the ongoing environmental Armageddon and the collapse of humanity’s collective immune system isn’t made clear, which is something of an oversight, given that it’s one of the principle drivers of the story. As with much of what follows, we’re expected to accept what we’re told without so much as a raised eyebrow.
If you’re reading this, chances are you have an idea what THE COLONY is about, and have probably seen the trailer below. As such, it’s no spoiler to reveal that the threat derives from a nearby Colony, one in which the inhabitants have devolved into a clan of atavistic, unthinking cannibals. It might be reasonable to assume an explanation would be offered for this somewhat startling turn of events, but once again Renfroe just shrugs his shoulders; it is what it is. It would appear the future is rather a dangerous place – not only will innocuous infections we’ve been virtually immune to for centuries spontaneously develop the ability to kill us, but we’ll regress to WRONG TURN-style killer cannibals at the drop of a hat (or, in Paxton’s case, go nuts and start shooting people for the simple joy of it). What follows is a startlingly simplistic game of cat and mouse, in which the good guys flee and the villains give chase, spiced up with a dash of genre hokum about a machine that could fix everything. Not only is the plot linear and simplistic, but the ending is a cop-out, setting up a sequel by this point no one wants to see.
On the plus side, Renfroe handles the action sequences with aplomb, and wrings a modest amount of tension from the claustrophobic interiors. The special effects are good, and the sense of a planet in the grip of catastrophe is fully achieved. Fishburne offers typically stoic support, and Paxton goes convincingly crazy, but Zegers makes for a bland lead. The bad guys are entirely too mindless and ill-defined to feel properly threatening, and almost every element of the production has been lifted from a superior source. There are shades of 28 DAYS LATER, 30 DAYS OF NIGHT, THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW, BLADE, DAY OF THE DEAD, THE THING, and at times it veers dangerously close to the murky, CGI-saturated territory of such minor and unaccomplished franchises as UNDERWORLD and RESIDENT EVIL. And it’s not just the visuals and set-pieces that feel recycled; conceptually the film is an amalgam of any number of familiar genre ideas.
For all its many faults, I didn’t hate THE COLONY. It’s a poorly articulated compilation of pilfered ideas, with a basic plot and a disappointing ending, but at least it isn’t yet another meandering found footage flick or unfunny zomcom. Visually impressive and boasting some effective action, it’s a inoffensive way to while away ninety minutes.