Post-apocalyptic sci-fi that take place after humans abandon Earth aren’t exactly a dime a dozen, but there are a lot of them. Those that then have their main characters go searching for Earth in hopes of resettling are far fewer. I’m reminded of After Earth, Asimov’s Foundations and Earth, even N.K. Jemison’s Broken Earth focuses on the end of the world. The Colony, an indie circuit film from Saban Films, takes place generations after humans left Earth, and centers on an exploratory crew sent back to see if Earth is perhaps habitable again. It’s a relatively novel approach to the material. Humans, specifically the rich and in-power, fled Earth when things became untenable and took refuge at Kepler 209. Pay no mind that Kepler 209b is over 1,800 light years away, in-fiction it takes a little more than ten years. How? Not explained. But the radiation from Kepler’s star has made people sterile. Returning to Earth is their only option if humanity wants to survive.
Immediately, The Colony is shot with a very intentional eye. Light and dark are pronounced, sound is sharp and startling, the color palette is cool and ominous. Our protagonist Blake, played by the striking Nora Arnezeder of Army of the Dead and Safe House, crash lands on a watery, decimated Earth after her landing pod malfunctions. One crewmate doesn’t survive the night afloat at sea and the other is immobilized by a knee injury, leaving Blake to scout ahead on her own. Within moments things get strange as they are ambushed and captured by the inhabitants of Earth.
This movie moves quick. Not as quick as I initially feared it would, but it still moves a little too fast to allow much gravity to build. To give you the rundown, the Keplers sent a crew ahead of Blake’s crew. That crew was led by none other than Blake’s father. That crew was lost shortly after they landed. Blake hopes, beyond hope, that she might find her father. To be honest the plot reminds me a little of the Brad Pitt space flick Ad Astra from 2019.
Blake encounters the people of this abandoned Earth as they visit the well that she is confined in. While they don’t speak English, they do speak some amalgamation of Germanic languages so Blake isn’t completely helpless in understanding what they are asking. The film focuses on Blake’s mission, an attempt to chart her own body’s recovery from being in range of Kepler’s radiation. She tests the water, herself, and other samples of biological material through the movie, assessing its radiation levels, and the levels in her blood that denote ovulation. Before long, the people holding Blake captive are attacked by another group and her test kit is stolen, leading Blake on a hunt-and-gather quest to track it down and hopefully find the first pod the Keplers launched, hoping to send a message back home.
There isn’t much of a cast to The Colony. Sarah-Sofie Boussina of Bron/Broen and Knightfall plays Narvik, a mother from the first colony Blake encounters. Sope Dirisu of His House and AMC’s Humans plays Tucker, Blake’s ill-fated crewmate. Sebastian Roche of 6 Underground and The Young Pope plays Blake’s father. And a surprise appearance of Iain Glen of Game of Thrones and Resident Evil fame, as the leader of the “other” survivors, Gibson. The cast is small and intimate, helping the viewer remain focused on the action of the drama rather than trying to keep track of who’s who.
Gibson and his faction of survivors hope to set the groundwork for the return of the Keplers, but the question is: at what cost? The Colony seeks to debate some pretty litigious subject material. The humans on Earth seem to be reproducing perfectly normally, something brought to attention the first time Blake tells her crewmate Tucker she saw “children and babies.” Gibson, a survivor of the first Kepler return mission, is aware that the Keplers are struggling with sterility. This knowledge guides his efforts to make Earth and its present inhabitants more ready for the Keplers when they return. Honestly this debate over helping humanity survive is one worth having in the context of this film, however the climactic events of The Colony just move too quickly.
Throughout this film’s stark, wet, and foggy diorama of the world, the viewer is prompted with moral quandaries. It often even seems to ask its audience whether they think what’s happening onscreen is right or wrong, but instead of really diving into any one specific issue, the film prefers to pose numerous questions in a short time and force its protagonist forward. This can be done with great effect. Think Interstellar or, again, Ad Astra. Both films pose problems with several answers, or no clear answers, and then force their characters to move forward without giving them time to really study for the test. But both of those films are slower, and pose fewer questions. It feels too much like The Colony wanted to show you this stark world more than it wanted you to engage with its broken morality. And even then, there is a lot of fog and darkness.
In the end, the resolution that they come to is…interesting. And not entirely bad.
I realize that as I describe this it will be easy to deduce that I didn’t like this movie, but honestly, that isn’t the case. I really liked this movie. It just feels so rushed. The cinematography is beautiful, scenes rarely linger too long or cut themselves short. Sure, some of the foreshadowing is a bit ham-fisted, but I still agreed with a lot of the choices the director and writer made.
There, now that I have that off of my chest, back to the conclusion.
It’s not entirely bad. Really. It’s not. The wrap up of the “big bad” story line is a bit fumbled, but the resolution itself isn’t clean, and I like that fact a lot. It takes a lot of courage to not tie a neat bow at the end of your movie. Sometimes it pays off and sometimes it doesn’t. Green Knight’s ending is brilliantly open to interpretation. Inception’s wobbling top was the focus of debate for years. Alternatively, Army of the Dead’s open ending felt cheap and a little deceptive. The Colony rests firmly between these two extremes. At once, the narrative isn’t finished. There are events put into motion that the creative team didn’t feel the need to draw to conclusion. Neal Stephenson is famous for this. None of his books have tidy finishes. Everything continues beyond the last period. For The Colony, very little of what comes next is “open for interpretation,” and instead it feels like this is all we get. I am conflicted about this, but at the time of writing this review I am going to say that I like it. It felt right for the narrative. I can only hope that someday we get a little more of this universe, if only to appease my curiosity.
The Colony is a dark and moody sci-fi drama that feels coolly aware of itself and what it wants to say. Sometimes that hinders its ability to be clear and concise but, more often than not it’s a smartly drafted, devilishly moody little sci-fi drama that will have you thinking about its dire universe and unbelievably sexy characters.
Oh I didn’t mention that? Yeah everyone has a strong future sexy vibe and it rules. Think sleek, strong, bisexual energy. Is it confusing in a movie all about reproduction as humanity’s last hope? Yes, but, like…I’m still here for every minute of it. | Caleb Sawyer