Less than a decade ago, the term “direct to video” was almost like a reprimand; a definitive punishment for a wayward or misgiving film that is not worthy of a major marketing campaign but has too much potential in niche markets to sell to another brand. Of course, there were some films that broke through that stigma and redefined the cult film experience, and many defining films of the new generation of horror fans were alternately discovered on home video, but the fact remains that it wasn’t until the age of digital distribution that top quality films were bypassing the theatrical route to reach a wider audience at a faster pace. However, in the wake of such developments, enough time passed where filmmaking itself changed, as digitial filmmaking became cheaper, character actors found lead roles catered to their strengths and foreign investors found less risk in the home media marketplace. As such, the number of pleasant surprises from the “direct to video” crowd have increased by the year, one of which is The Colony, which hit DVD/Blu-ray from RLJ and Image Entertainment on October 15th, 2012.
The Colony is fairly standard in conception, as an endless winter drives humanity into post-apocalyptic underground shelters, and a distress call from a nearby shelter leads to discoveries that will either save or destroy their way of life forever. Of course, the danger of the piece becomes more realized as time goes on, giving off a definitive and brutal antagonist that is somewhat predictable, given the nature of the film, and of course, tensions boil in the community itself as well. The story may be the weakest link of the film, as subplots are introduced yet never fleshed out properly, and with the exception of a singular friendship and a budding romance, few of these relationships ever feel realistically constructed in the narrative. In post-apocalyptic films, the emphasis on survival would seemingly cause a community to address potential dangers,even when embedded in their circle of trust, with a righteous hand. In that sense, the moral philosophies introduced are given weight when the hammer does drop and there’s more emotional investment in the remaining survivors as desperation heightens, and unfortunately, those qualities are absent from the film.
However, what the film succeeds at is being great entertainment, allowing the multiple genuine performances and fantastic moments of action and gore to elevate the film above many of it’s contemporaries. Much of this can be attributed to director Jeff Renfroe, whose sense of pacing, tension and practicality add to a sleek and tight film with an established sense of the universe in which the story resides. Cinematographer Pierre Gill provides clear, focused and simple photography that paints the bleakness of the world effectively, while editor Aaron Marshall and the surprisingly good special effects- practical or otherwise- are also incredibly essential to the overall enjoyment of the project. The work is definitely indicative of resourcefulness and determination, which goes a long way for a production that could have easily been slept through and forgotten.
The cast of the film is a bit of a mixed bag, although most of the performances are strong for their brief time allotted. Kevin Zegers handily forges through this film, showing off his emotional range while also devoting a more physically intuitive performance. Laurence Fishburne is also wonderful in the film, playing someone who is hardened yet still functionally human, and offers a refreshing amount of clarity to his character, which goes even better for his audience compatibility. Julian Richings and Charlotte Sullivan also perform solidly in their smaller roles, with the only performance of distracting indifference going to a grumbling Bill Paxton, who still has the effort in him but is admittedly underserved by a stereotypical character.
Among the recent crop of post-apocalyptic films, The Colony happens to be more fun, engaging and intense on a fraction of the budget of those Hollywood blockbusters, and by investing time into characters and suspense, the carnage on display feels deserved rather than forced. Director Renfroe shows great potential with his work in The Colony, delivering a film that has the right tonal balance of horror and action and understands the importance of patience to a character actor. This film is definitely more serious in tone than the B-movie direction the plot seems to gravitate towards, but that’s what makes the surprising elements so effective and allows the film to stand higher than most DTV offerings. If you’re a fan of horror-action hybrids and care to see a few good performances along the way, The Colony is ripe for discovery.