Tim Fehlbaum’s “The Colony” contains many concepts about the future. While not all of them completely mesh, a few fascinating visual and narrative choices make it enjoyable. Enough is going on to hold your attention for a few minutes before veering off into complex story intricacies or tired sci-fi cliches.
“It’s all about climate change. Warfare. Pandemics.” These are the Horsemen of the Apocalypse, who convince the ruling elite to abandon Earth in favor of Kepler 209, a distant planet with unexpected long-term consequences. Two generations later, the affluent desire to return to Earth since their capacity to reproduce has run out, a la “Children of Men,” and their society is withering and would ultimately die out unless something changes. They dispatched an exploring party to scout their former homeworld, but the first expedition perished. We enter the second round just as they are about to smash into the water. One lady, Blake (Nora Arnezeder), and one guy, Tucker (Sope Dirisu), somehow survive to begin their quest on a windswept ocean floor when the tide is out. These explorers, however, are not alone, and they quickly learn that this semi-wet “Waterworld” is populated by the survivors—all young humans under the age of 30—of the poor people who were abandoned by the higher classes.
What follows is a little of a thriller, a bit of a moral viewpoint on the subject of colonization from the colonizer’s point of view. Blake quickly finds herself alone on a home planet that is everything but welcome, thrown into a water-themed parody on the “Mad Max” films. As they’re known, the survivors live true to their moniker with their burlap and rags outfits, dirty cheeks, and unruly hair. Blake forms an uneasy alliance with Maila (Bella Bading) and Narvik (Sarah-Sofie Boussnina). Still, there is a larger group of survivors pillaging smaller groups like Maila’s and aligning itself with the power-to-be in the hopes of reaping their spoils. They bring secrets and a nefarious plot to recolonize the planet’s human resources as well.
Fehlbaum and Mariko Minoguchi’s screenplay—with additional writing credits to Jo Rogers and Tim Trachte—can get bogged down in particular sci-fi jargon or cross-cultural misunderstandings (between the Keplers and the survivors, who produced their language after the well-heeled civilization took English with them). However, the plot proceeds at a decent speed, rushing past duller scenes to get to the next surprise or action sequence as soon as possible. True to its title, “The Colony” considers the ethical consequences of a dominating tribe becoming overlords over a population they consider inferior. Blake represents the transition from someone who was brainwashed to think of “the good of the many,” then defaulting to the will of the state, then to someone who thinks for themselves and eventually comes to a difficult, if more compassionate, decision.
The film’s emotions are further complicated by the tug-of-war between Blake’s experiences with motherhood and her father’s recollections. The tale becomes excessively obsessed with her capacity to procreate, which is subsequently explained by her generation’s loss of power. While maternal parallels are not new in sci-fi, this one appears to leave her replies on the surface. When she is handed her first infant, she is apprehensive, and she subsequently takes on a mother role for Maila when attempting to free her from captors. But towards the film’s conclusion, it’s unclear if parenthood is something she desires or something the colony desires for her. Blake’s father (Sebastian Roché), who was lost in the first excursion, looms big in her mind, and she is compelled to reconcile with his beliefs in the face of their ramifications.
These memories depict a sanitized, beautifully illuminated world of the affluent ex-pats, a place far from the harsh Earth where they abandoned the impoverished. It evokes the type of class separation seen in sci-fi films like “Metropolis” or “Elysium,” where one part lives in luxury while the other half can’t imagine such opulence. Markus Förderer’s largely grungy grey and green cinematography concoct a visual style that seems so thick, you almost expect the camera to emerge filthy itself to produce this murky picture of the future in “The Colony.” It’s a clever trick that gives the idea of a future world in which huge tides have destroyed most of the ecology we know today (RIP trees) and leave nothing but ocean spray in the air.
However, not all parts of “The Colony” take off. Arnezeder fails to bring Blake to life via her acting, following in the footsteps of great women leading sci-fi films but never breaking out of their shadow. It’s wooden and functional but unmemorable, almost like parts of the film’s expository sections or its tacked-on finale, which provides no closure to some of the narrative’s concepts. “The Colony” is more of an afternoon diversion than a true challenge to one’s beliefs.
The Colony is now playing in theaters and available on digital platforms.