Based on the real-life Colonia Dignidad, an inescapable religious sect in Chile, The Colony – previously known as Colonia – sees Lena (Emma Watson) enter the infamous compound in the hopes of rescuing her boyfriend, political activist Daniel (Daniel Brühl). After Daniel is abducted by police in the Chilean military coup of 1973, air stewardess Lena takes it upon herself to save him, throwing herself into the path of deranged head preacher, Paul Schäfer (Michael Nyqvist).
The story itself is massively interesting – there is enough politically-charged preamble to give Daniel’s actions sufficient weight, and the main body of the film, inside Colonia Dignidad, is delightfully unnerving. The film does a good job of communicating the oppressiveness of the sect, with Paul’s right hand woman, the indescribably horrid Gisela (Richenda Carey), standing to make the already torturous compound even worse. There are always seems to be some twisted interest in the minds of the religiously overwhelmed, and The Colony plays on this to create a really tense piece of work. One scene, in which Paul tries to raise a man from the dead by communicating directly with God, is one of the finest parts of the film, and the memory of that sustains the film when it falls on slightly less interesting ground.
Daniel Brühl gives the strongest performance of the film, as a politically-driven young man, intent on uprising, who is forced to play a fool whilst he tries to take down Colonia from the inside. There are moments when his play-acting might fall a little too close to offensive caricature, but for the most part he reins it back well.
Emma Watson is also good as Lena – she’s charming, certainly, and her role is far more emotionally demanding than what other films have required of her. She rises to the challenge commendably, but there’s still something inescapably Emma Watson about her performance that puts a tiny degree of separation between her character and the film’s action. It’s a tiny thing, but it lingers and it can get a little distracting at times. Overall, though, she delivers far more than she has done in previous work, playing Lena as overwhelmed but determinedly resolute.
The film’s mise-en-scène is its greatest asset throughout. Luxembourg doubles for Chile, and the visuals of the Colonia itself are really effective – the compound looks like a cross between a ramshackle military base and a bland, dilapidated nunnery, and the film’s palette is striking in its desaturation.
The script, however, could have been stronger, and certain moments that could have elevated the film to something truly special instead fall back onto somewhat mediocre dialogue and plot points. It’s slightly unbelievable in some instances, and though it’s based on a true story the dramatic liberties are fairly evident when you see them. It’s hardly a crime to exaggerate for effect, but it ends up compromising the cohesion of the story at certain times, and that’s when real problems start to develop.
Nevertheless, The Colony once again pulls it back, which seems to be the status of the film as a whole. It’s never bad, but it doesn’t ever bring itself into the territory of a truly great film. There are some really interesting moments, and a truly, truly fascinating premise, but it never peaks. You’re left with solid performances, but the distinct feeling that The Colony never quite got to where it wanted to be.
Dir: Florian Gallenberger
Scr: Florian Gallenberger, Torsten Wenzel
Cast: Emma Watson, Daniel Brühl, Michael Nyqvist, Richenda Carey
Prd: Christian Becker, Benjamin Herrmann, James Spring, Nicolas Steil, Patrick Zorer
DOP: Kolja Brandt
Editing: Hansjörg Weißbrich
Music: André Dziezuk, Fernando Velázquez
Country: Germany, Luxembourg, France
Runtime: 110 mins