27 April 2016 | cinemacy
Sacrificial torture and secret worlds, there is no shortage of surprises in 'Colonia'
Inspired by true events, Colonia is a Hollywood-style thriller about a couple who finds themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time- the torture prison of a religious cult under the influence of the Chilean secret police in 1974. At a time when Chilean youth began revolutionizing in the streets, one man's involvement with the movement along with his girlfriend's association in his anti-government views causes the couple to put their relationship and love for each other to the test. Directed by Academy Award winner Florian Gallenberger (Shadows of War), Colonia opens in theaters Friday, April 15th. Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine" accompanies archival footage of protesters rioting in the streets while the film itself is saturated in prime colors- magenta and royal blue. This juxtaposition of violence and R&B gives an artistic edge to the film's opening scenes, but unfortunately, this visual isn't sustained throughout the film. We meet our protagonist Daniel (Daniel Brühl), up on stage pumping up the masses of people, when, out of nowhere, he spots a bright yellow flight attendant's outfit (like a ray of Mr. Withers' sunshine) from the muted colors of the crowd. The woman is Lena (Emma Watson) and they immediately embrace. Their relationship isn't made entirely clear, but she only has four days in town and they plan on spending it together.
While enjoying their time together, Daniel receives a phone call that shifts the political tide and changes everything. This results in chaos erupting in the streets, leading to their capture by the Chilean soldiers. Daniel gets abducted and taken to a hidden cult in a rural area called Colonia Dignidad, run by ex-Nazi Paul Schäfer (Michael Nyqvist). Left with no other choice, Lena willfully joins the Colonia as a desperate, last-ditch effort to find her boyfriend, risking her own life to bring him home as she discovers that those who enter the cult never leave.
Emma Watson and Daniel Brühl play Lena and Daniel with an innocence about them that has you rooting for their success. Watson is unquestionably beautiful and smart, her outspokenness gets her into trouble. Brühl takes a more unconventional risk with his character by playing the role of a mentally challenged person in an effort to trick his captors into thinking he is not a threat. Watson and Brühl are crucial to the film's success, but individually speaking, these roles won't likely result in a significant boost to their careers.
Colonia can't escape the comparisons to Eli Roth's The Sacrament or the documentary Kidnapped for Christ (if you haven't seen it, it's available to stream on Netflix, and is a MUST- watch), which may hurt Colonia's overall success because it is not as riveting by comparison. Audiences know what they are getting with an Eli Roth film, and a documentary has its own sense of wonderment, but Colonia tends to jump from the political thriller to love story to religious brainwashing in a patchwork way that feels a bit all over the place, and it is this "clumpy" genre blending that may be the film's weakest point. Plus, Daniel and Lena's relationship is never fully established in the beginning of the film, so we are left to wonder why she would risk her life to save this person.
At its core, Colonia is an interesting story, but not a very memorable film. It doesn't provide enough tension to overshadow The Sacrament, nor does it have the foundation to be a solid romance. The fact that it is based on a true story is what keeps the film afloat and the inclusion the smuggled archival photos of the real Colonia Dignidad at the end is a much-needed gem. Yet, even with cinema-savvy actors Emma Watson and Daniel Brühl, Colonia can't quite seem to gain the traction needed to be a standout film.
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