Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Problem With Colonies Is All The Other People

I didn't catch all of The Colony when it aired a few days ago. I was flipping back and forth between it and Lakers/Rockets, but I got the gist of it.

The Earth is in a new Ice Age, and we're focused on this one outpost, Colony 7, holed up in some large complex, with Briggs (Laurence Fishburne) running the show. They lose contact with one of the other outpost, and so Fishburne heads out to investigate, along with two other people, including a young man named Sam (Kevin Zegers). Once they get there, they find everyone in the complex has been killed by a different group, a bunch of roving cannibals. Though for awhile, I think the movie tries to play ambiguous about whether they're still human or not. None of them really say anything, just scream, and chase, and kill, and eat.

As it turns out, the now devastated outpost had picked up some radio transmission from a different outpost, one where they had managed to use a radio dish, or microwave emitter or something to force a break in the clouds over their home. The permafrost had melted, and they could grow crops, of they had seeds. This colony had sent people to investigate, they hadn't found anything, and the cannibals found them and followed them back. When the lone survivor relates this story, I wasn't clear on whether "didn't find anything" meant they literally couldn't find the place, or they got there and everyone is dead. Considering Sam was able to make it back to Colony 7, and use their hookup to a satellite to find the location, my guess is the other colony's search team got there and found no survivors, because the cannibals found it first. Then followed the search team back home.

Despite Briggs' best efforts, the cannibals eventually find Colony 7, which is busy with its own internal strife. Briggs' had placed Sam's girlfriend, Kai, in charge, but in their absence, Briggs' old pal from their soldier days, Mason (Bill Paxton), has taken over and become dictatorial. He refuses to believe the cannibals are coming, refuses to believe there could be a place where the sun shines, and is generally showing no mercy to anyone who comes down with an illness. He spends a lot more time threatening Sam and Kai than he does effectively fighting the cannibals, who are pretty clever. I guess they have a lot of experience breaking into these outposts, because they do pretty well for having no guns, or really any weapons. They mostly just charge at people screaming and hit them and bite them. Anyway, fights, explosions, possible hope for the future.

Sam ends up in a fight with the Boss Cannibal, who Sam had winged with a shot in their first encounter, and it's one of those things where the good guy has to get really brutal to win, and you wonder if the film is trying to make some kind of point. Like in 28 Days Later, when Cillian Murphy's character starts killing all the soldiers, and by the time he gets to the last guy, the movie is really playing up that from an outsider's perspective, you couldn't tell the difference between him and one of the Infected. In Sam's case, he hits the lead guy in the head with a pipe at least 10 times. Then when the guy is somehow still not dead, or even unconscious, or even dazed, grabs some sort of large blade and basically cuts the guy's head off from above the lower jaw.

It's pretty brutal, but Sam isn't planning to eat the guy, and he didn't go looking for a fight, so there isn't really an equivalence to me. Maybe it was a point about lengths people go to survive. The boss does utter one word during the fight, when Sam asks what he's after: 'More'. So maybe it's a cathartic thing of watching a greedy asshole get his comeuppance, since it's a safe bet greedy assholes will persist through any cataclysm that doesn't exterminate all of humanity. Or maybe they just wanted a brutal fight scene.

The movie - the parts I saw, anyway - has some good bits. Ignoring the fact that these people look a lot cleaner than I would expect (their hair especially, seems too neat), the movie does seem to recognize the difficulties there'd be in cramming a bunch of people into an underground complex together. One of the reasons Mason starts just executing sick people is because he's gotten concerned that Briggs is being too slow to quarantine and test them for serious contagious diseases. Which would be a problem for a bunch of people living together in a perpetual winter, in a place that looks like it used to be an old foundry or factory or something. It's not the cleanest place, is what I'm saying.

The part where Briggs, Sam, and the other fellow first reach the other colony was appropriately spooky. It's a big place, there aren't many lights, so there's a ton of shadows. There's a pounding noise coming from somewhere, and some occasional howls or screams. It reminds me of some of the early levels of certain scary video games - Singularity came to mind, maybe because of the cold - where you know there's something out there, but you don't know what, or when you're going to find out. So you don't know if you're prepared for it. Of course, then you see what's lurking, and in a game at least, you can usually deal with it. Kill it, most likely, elude it if you can't. Eventually the game has to start throwing more and more of the same thing at you, or bigger and better versions, and maybe that works, and maybe it doesn't. For me, those sorts of games tend to get less scary overall as they progress.

In a movie, there isn't technically any such guarantee. Though yeah, you can probably figure at least one of the main characters is going to survive, and they'll win out ultimately. But maybe not, depends on how dark the filmmakers want to go. Even so, the thing didn't seem quite as scary once I saw who was actually responsible. That initial moment where Sam and Briggs find the cannibals and their makeshift butcher shop was pretty horrifying, but then Sam shoots one in the head, he falls down, and it's like, oh, they're not invincible killing machines. I shouldn't have switched back to the game during their escape from the outpost, though. I feel that could have been pretty well done, the two of them scrambling to find their way back out from these narrow, dark passageways, the sound of pursuit echoing crazily around them. No idea if that's how it played out, but it could have been.

The end battle was kind of lackluster. Felt paint-by-the-numbers, the beats coming in the progression you've seen plenty of times in these sorts of "last stand" scenarios in films. It might have been clever to have the cannibals never make it to Colony 7. Briggs managed to destroy the bridge, and while I'm sure the river below was more than solid enough to walk on, it looked like a pretty steep drop on either side. Have the cannibal bunch die trying to find a way around. They didn't seem terribly bright or resourceful when they weren't laying siege to a place, and it would play up how utterly indifferent the planet is to all the stupid crap people do to each other. There's no big final conflict between civilization and savagery because nature gives zero fucks about your denouement.

Or, that conflict will come when Sam makes it back and has to convince Mason they should travel to the place the sun shines. And then it's a struggle between the side that wants to take a chance they can move forward and rebuild, and the side that isn't willing to take the chance, that wants to huddle in the decaying corpse of the last civilization for as long as they can manage.

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