Film Review: The Colony


European middleweights Emma Watson, Daniel Brühl and Michael Nygvist form a strong foundation on which to build a semi-political historical thriller. Though Florian Gallenberger’s The Colony aims for the likes of Munich and Argo, it falls some distance short, an early warning sign coming in the form of an ‘Inspired by real events’ fast and loose disclaimer. Set in early 1970s Chile, and prefaced with archival footage of the final days of Salvador Allende’s presidency, The Colony paddles indecisively in the unspeakable ills of the Pinochet era without ever really taking the plunge.

It foregoes a firm footing in its historical context for a rather insular romance between English air hostess Lena (Watson) and German photographer-cum- revolutionary Daniel (Brühl). In focusing on the suffering of two foreign outsiders, Gallenberger’s film has greater appeal for a European audience and does build a relatively strong head of steam with a love-conquers-all story but is altogether too blinkered in terms of the bigger, uglier picture for the people at the time and place of its setting. A change of title – from the original Colonia – further neutralises and distances us from the focus of its narrative: the Colonia Dignidad, a remote compound which housed a fanatical religious sect run by German preacher Paul Schäfer (Nygvist).

Under its stringent, misogynistic surface lay a network of tunnels and dungeons which witnessed the torture of Pinochet regime opposition. Landing in Santiago, Lena is wide-eyed and excited at the prospect of seeing long lost love Daniel. Their eyes meet across a bustling roadway blocked by Allende supporters, Daniel throwing out pamphlets as a comrade addresses an enamoured crowd. As is so often the case with historical thrillers that would be all the more successful in an exclusive language (Oliver Hirschbiegel’s Downfall set a benchmark), The Colony falls frustratingly between two stalls, mixing subtitled Spanish with accented English.

Daniel is denounced and sent to Colonia. Having spent only a few days with him, and without any explanation of a backstory, Lena ditches her cabin crew and schleps off into deepest, darkest Chile to join the cult and find a way to rescue her beloved. Subverting the traditional damsel in distress gender clichés, it is refreshing to see Lena riding into town on the white horse, even if she does grossly underestimate the task at hand. As Schäfer, Nyqvist – sporting a perfectly dreadful mullet – is truly despicable: “To hurt a person without harming them physically; that’s an art.” His aggressively chauvinistic language – from “cow”, to “slut”, to much worse – lands the desired blows, and instances of violence inflicted on the female members of his flock, whilst undoubtedly true, overshadow Watson’s strong female leading turn. Richenda Carey appears as ruthless matron Gisela, nonetheless not immune to Schäfer’s rough treatment. The Colony would perhaps have been better suited as a trilogy, the couple’s will-they, won’t-they escape the last segment of a film which tries to hit too many bases without sufficiently covering any of them.

Matthew Anderson@behind_theseens