The Colony | Film review - Emma Watson's plucky heroine takes on a sinister cult in 1970s Chile

The Colony Emma Watson Daniel Brühl
Lena (Emma Watson), Daniel (Daniel Brühl) in The Colony

The Colony - Expat couple Emma Watson and Daniel Brühl fall foul of a sinister cult in this fact-based but far-fetched political thriller set in 1970s Chile.

Lena (Emma Watson), Daniel (Daniel Brühl) in The Colony

Set against the backdrop of the 1973 coup (opens in new tab) that toppled Chilean president Salvador Allende and brought dictator Augusto Pinochet to power, political thriller The Colony (opens in new tab) stars Emma Watson and Daniel Brühl as an expat European couple who fall foul of a brutal religious cult that is in cahoots with the regime.

Arrested in the aftermath of the coup, German student activist Daniel (Brühl) ends up in the clutches of German émigré preacher Paul Schäfer (opens in new tab) (Michael Nykvist), an ex-Nazi whose ostensibly charitable religious settlement, the Colonia Dignidad (Spanish for Colony of Dignity), more closely resembles a prison camp than a utopian idyll.

Barbed wire and watchtowers encircle the cult’s compound, while the men and women inside - dressed for special occasions in folky looking lederhosen and dirndls - are strictly segregated. Secretly, Pinochet’s goons use the colony as a torture camp.

The Colony Emma Watson

Lena (EMMA WATSON) in The Colony.

Daniel’s girlfriend, plucky Lufthansa stewardess Lena (Watson), has little inkling of the horrors that lie in store but is determined to rescue him and infiltrates the sealed-off camp, posing as a believer…

Originally titled Colonia, The Colony is loosely inspired by real events. Shockingly, the Colonia Dignidad did exist (opens in new tab) and was every bit as viciously strange as depicted here. Schäfer wasn’t only an authoritarian bully but a paedophile to boot.

The Colony Michael Nykvist Emma Watson

Paul Schäfer (Michael Nyqvist), Lena (Emma Watson) in The Colony

On screen, however, director Florian Gallenberger’s film doesn’t ring true. With most of the dialogue in English, his movie’s authenticity takes a knock from the start, and the plot’s contrivances undermine its credibility still further as Lena and Daniel’s ordeal becomes increasingly far fetched.

In the film’s closing third, the couple’s efforts to escape the camp do supply genuinely gripping thrills and spills, but given Watson and Brühl’s solid performances and Nykvist’s sadistic villainy, a more realistic treatment of the subject would surely have been even more chilling.

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Certificate 15. Runtime 110 mins. Director Florian Gallenberger

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SiVAGDTmlpY

A film critic for over 25 years, Jason admits the job can occasionally be glamorous – sitting on a film festival jury in Portugal; hanging out with Baz Luhrmann at the Chateau Marmont; chatting with Sigourney Weaver about The Archers – but he mostly spends his time in darkened rooms watching films. He’s also written theatre and opera reviews, two guide books on Rome, and competed in a race for Yachting World, whose great wheeze it was to send a seasick film critic to write about his time on the ocean waves. But Jason is happiest on dry land with a classic screwball comedy or Hitchcock thriller.