Between The X Files, Battlestar Galactica, Stargate, Smallville and another dozen shows over the past twenty years, Canada has become the default home of north American science fiction television, but more often than not filming takes place within those borders with the intention of stretching the Hollywood dollar further. Very rarely is a show actually set within Canada, Continuum being the bold exception, and almost as rarely do the provinces finance their own science fiction feature film, The Colony being a proud exception, though with the commercial inclusion of American leading men.
A catastrophic environmental collapse has decimated the population, the survivors eking out a minimal existence in the few remaining underground strongholds, scavenging for food in the ruins of a world frozen over. Directed by Jeff Renfroe, primarily known for TV movies and episodic television including the current versions of Beauty and the Beast and Being Human, both naturally filmed in Canada, The Colony springs from the same concept as The Day After Tomorrow, though it is fortunately less bombastic and idiotic than its predecessor.
Lawrence Fishburne is Briggs, leader of Colony 7, where life is necessarily harsh; lacking medical facilities or supplies even the common cold can become a deadly epidemic so they cannot harbour infection, and anyone who does not immediately recover from early symptoms is exiled to the surface. With insufficient food and no hope, Brigg’s right hand man, Bill Paxton’s Mason, is becoming overzealous in enforcing the rules by which they live and when a women sneezes during a meeting she and her husband are marched into quarantine, all others present covering their faces.
Adding to the crisis, a distress call is received from Colony 5 and an expedition to investigate and render whatever aid is possible is dispatched, Briggs taking with him Sam (Kevin Zegers, seen last year in The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones) and reluctantly leaving Mason in charge. Setting out on the two day trek, the crumbling city now a blasted wilderness, the brief history of the downfall of the world through the failure of the weather modifiers is relayed. Put concisely, “One day it started to snow and it never stopped.”
Sam’s dreams offer a reminiscence of the past, but no memory of sunshine or warmth: “The world froze a long time ago, so long ago I can’t remember the warmth of the sun.” The impression is of a dead world of enormous technological artefacts which couldn’t save it, and while the effects are perhaps not of the standard expected of a feature film, what they lack in execution they make up for in imagination, though it is a notable omission that there is no vapour when the characters breathe.
Arriving at Colony 5, they find a sole survivor hiding in the darkness, incoherent and babbling, telling of a message they received which spoke of a zone of warmth and safety which they sought to locate, but instead something found their search party, tracking them back to the supposed safety of Colony 5 and laying waste to it.
Through Aliens, Near Dark, Event Horizon, The Matrix and many others, the reliable Paxton and Fishburne are no strangers to genre. The performances of all are suitably weary, but no great emotion is required; for these people, just living is exhausting. While a glacial pace might be appropriate for a frozen apocalypse and the early scenes certainly benefit from this weight, as the film progresses the much needed sense of urgency fails to defrost until the final act.
Making little attempt to be groundbreaking or unique, The Colony appreciates the attention it receives rather than standing up and demanding it, but it is certainly competent and well realised, occasionally even shocking when the intruders and their terrifying rage are revealed, the towering presence of Dru Viergever as the relentless leader who pursues Briggs and Sam across the ice personalising the marauders who would otherwise be indistinguishable from Reavers.
Renfroe is accustomed to working on the tightly controlled budgets and timescales, and this shows in his approach to the material; allowed to work on a larger canvas, the material still feels small, however simple tricks are often the most effective. Within the dimly lit industrial corridors, the influence of Alien is strong, and some scenes in the near abandoned Colony 5 are undeniably creepy, enhanced by Jeff Danna’s score which has aspects of Horner’s Aliens and Nyman’s Gattaca.