Film Review: The Colony

Some say the world will end in fire, some say in ice: In this formulaic post-apocalyptic thriller, the Earth has been frozen by a manmade catastrophe and scattered colonies of survivors try to retain their humanity while living in a remorseless world w

Underground Colony 7, housed in a former military facility (a real decommissioned NORAD base), is a relatively successful society, even if the population has decreased considerably from the 400 with which it started, largely because of once-common and manageable diseases that burn through close quarters and weakened immune systems.

Colony 7's tough-but-fair head man, Briggs (Laurence Fishburne), lives and leads by two rules: Everybody pulls his or her weight and everyone looks out for everyone else until the bitter end—if the rule of might takes over, they'll be no better than animals. When a garbled but urgent distress call comes in from the much-smaller Colony 5, with which 7 has a mutual support pact, they have to go help. Leaving sexy geek-girl Kai (Charlotte Sullivan) in charge, Briggs braves the perpetual snow and ice with two volunteers—Kai's boyfriend Sam (Kevin Zegers, of TV's “Gossip Girl”), who he rescued from certain death as a child, and wet-behind-the ears Graydon (Atticus Mitchell). In Briggs’ absence, security head Mason (Bill Paxton), a hard-core survivalist with little patience for moral imperatives, starts flexing his muscles.

But there's worse trouble ahead: Colony 5 has been wiped out by a different breed of survivor, and now they have their sights set on doing the same to Colony 7. Who will win the battle between civilized ideals and dog-eat-dog savagery?

Director and co-writer Jeff Renfroe's future shocker The Colony is highly derivative, but credit where it's due: It has echoes of films as far-ranging as the grisly Pandorum and Doomsday (both 2009), The Road (also 2009, a bumper year for gory dystopias), and even Robert Altman's melancholy 1979 Quintet. That said, there's not much to it on a narrative level: It's a siege movie that pits a scrappy little cadre of decent folk against a swarm of apparent others, a template that's produced some great films, from Rio Bravo to Night of the Living Dead. What distinguishes the cream of the crop is their emphasis on characterization, and that's The Colony's Achilles’ heel: Fishburne, Zegers and Paxton (playing yet another variation on Aliens' blustering coward, Private Hudson) do what they can with their thinly written characters, and hulking character actor Dru Viergever has a fine old time playing the bestial, pointy-toothed chief of the other survivors. But the rest of the cast is a crew of types, and not especially interesting ones, and when you don't especially care who lives and who dies, all the skull-crunching action doesn't amount to a hill of beans.