The Colony: Another climate change apocalypse destroys Earth beautifully
We have been destroying the earth for a long time, and because science fiction cinema has distilled and explored those concerns for decades (from Soylent Green for Aquatic world for WALL-E for Snowpiercer), the genus has become a kind of echo chamber. Our planet becomes uninhabitable. Humanity travels elsewhere to start over. Were we the problem all along? The repetitive configuration of these concerns, and the lack of creativity in considering them, results in films like that of director and co-writer Tim Fehlbaum. The colony.
Visually beautiful but narratively inert, The colony tips his hat towards other classics of the genre such as Aliens and Man child with questions about reproduction, colonialism and community responsibility. Its protagonist, Blake (Nora Arnezeder), evokes Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley with his physical strength, his steely gaze and his tenderness towards children. The characters in the film are divided into warring factions fighting for who should control the planet’s scarce resources, and the natives of Earth are dismissed as backward and unsophisticated. The charm of the space and the potential it holds is analyzed in depth. But for all the time The colony he spends in nostalgic and melancholic musings about these ideas, he fails to offer a singular perspective on any of them.
The intertitles inform us that due to climate change, pandemics and war, “the ruling elite” escaped from Earth to settle on the distant planet Kepler 209. But the planet is not perfect: there are no large bodies of water, but there are it is widespread radioactivity, making survival difficult. Most importantly, people are losing the ability to conceive naturally. With the potential end of humanity looming, the Kepler-ians begin an astronaut program to return to Earth. The first spaceship they send back, Ulysses 1, disappears without sending a transmission back. A generation later, Kepler releases Ulysses 2 and puts all his hopes on the shoulders of this three-man team, including Blake.
Can you recognize a place where you have never lived? Is there that kind of knowledge as an existential inheritance? As Blake wanders a wet and misty beach, lifting horseshoe crabs and scavenging for jellyfish, Arnezeder exudes confusion and familiarity. His expressive face reflects those conflicting emotions well, and his lithe physique captures a warrior and explorer accustomed to stress and trained to analyze the unknown. But even with all that preparation, Blake is caught off guard when he is ambushed by the planet’s survivors, led by a woman named Narvik (Sarah-Sofie Boussnina). They speak a hodgepodge of languages, carry weapons and live nomads, and unlike the humans on Kepler, they have children. Among the young men is a girl named Maila (Bella Bading), whom Blake befriends, and who is kidnapped when this group of survivors is attacked by another heavily armed group that takes what they want, including all the girls.
Blake’s main mission is to send a message to Kepler to let them know that reproduction still works on Earth, but when he takes Maila, his AliensStyle protection kicks in. As he follows the second group of survivors to their enclave of gigantic abandoned cargo ships and aircraft carriers stranded on the beach, Fehlbaum has another chance to shine visually. But when you switch the movie to action mode, The colony it becomes reactive rather than proactive. And while the secrets Blake learns from Gibson (Iain Glen), the second leader of the community, connect to his childhood at Kepler and provide strong character development. The colony then follows a fairly predictable path regarding what Blake chooses to do now that he is on Earth.
In its opening scenes, The colony functions as a whiny visual exploration of what survival would look like if we continued in our dilapidated climatic road: constant floods and rough waters, mobile cities built on rickety ships, nomadic villages wrapped in garb that protect them from the elements and allow ease of movement. Director of Photography Markus Förderer and Production Designer Julian R. Wagner create a haunting world, but The colony sometimes it is too literal. Fehlbaum’s presentation on loneliness is packed with staggeringly obvious images (Blake alone on the beach, Blake alone in a tidal pool), but his first 20 minutes are a haunting visualization of loss.
But The colony he’s not as thoughtful in developing his character, and he doesn’t go far enough. Much remains to be explored: How long have different groups of survivors been at war? What effect does the return of the Kepler people have? How does Blake feel about the social demand for reproduction? What is the rest of the Earth like? Why is a science fiction movie, supposedly about exploring a possible future, so careless about details?
The film’s lighthearted descriptions of death, such as “Flood took him away” when describing a lost character, suggest a life of endless hardship. But why The colony he sticks so firmly to Blake’s perspective that he doesn’t leave much room for anyone else. The film suggests a class analysis with that “ruling elite” intertitle, but does nothing with it. And although Arnezeder and Boussnina have incredible chemistry, The colony he doesn’t allow for any queer subtext, and he’s not really interested in person-to-person human emotions like romantic love.
His considerations are higher: Is world peace realistic between people who were able to leave a dying planet and those who were forced to stay? What about “coming home” that could cause physical changes? Especially recently, as we navigate past the deadline for preventive action to combat climate change, with the August 2021 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report describing climate change as “widespread, rapid and intensifying”- almost all science fiction movies seem to be reviewing the end of the Earth as we know it. But similar to Chaos walking, Colonists, and Voyager, The colony avoid the hard work required to repair or reverse the devastation we have caused. These characters move in a world that is amazingly visualized but superficially conceived, and The colony embodies a genre that seems, perhaps like humanity itself, unable to step forward in imagining a different future.
The colony premieres on August 27 in theaters, on VOD and on digital rental platforms such as Amazon and Voodoo.