Review: “Colonia” Feels Like Two Different Films; One I Liked and One I Didn’t



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Posted April 20, 2016 by

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Colonia Dignidad (Dignity Colony) was and is a real place. A terrifying retreat that was created by the controversial and unforgiving Paul Schaefer in 1961. Schaefer was an independent preacher who created Colonia as a place for people to follow his strict rules, live a life completely secluded and closed off from the rest of the world, and could be described as his own personal heaven where he could do and say anything he wanted without being questioned. Having close ties with the Chilean government gave Schaefer immunity of sorts and he had no problem exhausting all of his options. For those that lived there, hard work without pay was required, any breaking of Schaefer’s rules could result in torture, physical abuse, or even death. While to the outside world Colonia was disguised as a religious retreat, it was in fact a concentration camp that had one ruthless leader.

In the film “Colonia”, Lena (Watson) enters Colonia Dignidad in an attempt to find and rescue her boyfriend Daniel (Bruhl) who was captured and taken there to be punished and tortured. What she finds upon entering is that she may be stuck there for the rest of her life, and every waking moment is one of fear and terror. Once her and Daniel meet up, they must try to escape by any means necessary, but that (as always) is easier said than done.

“Colonia” felt like two different films for me. A hollywood thriller feel bookends the film, while an original, artsy, and dark story makes up the meat of it. Perhaps director Florian Gallenberger did that to portray the differences between being on the outside of the camp and being on the inside, but I wish the mood and atmosphere of the middle was present the whole way through as it was much more creative and exciting. A lot of the torture (both mental and physical) was done just off screen to really drive the terror home; it’s a gritty style of filmmaking that puts the viewer in the shoes of the characters and lets them feel the dread of everything they’re experiencing. Unfortunately when the camp isn’t the setting for the narrative happening, the film returns to an overproduced feel that goes for in-your-face tension that just doesn’t achieve its desired effect. It left me torn on how I felt about the film as a whole.

The best part of this movie was the acting delivered by Michael Nyqvist. He embodies this horrible human being that did terrible things to people (children included) and while overplaying the sinister character was the easier choice, Nyqvist plays him in a subtle way that makes him so much creepier. Whenever he’s on the screen, he’s completely captivating while also being completely hatable. Like I mentioned above, a lot of the terrible things he does happen just out of the sight of the viewer: beating a woman for not doing her job, joining young boys in the shower room and only seeing him quietly removing his shoes, the way he silently picks out the kids he wants to spend more time with while they’re singing hymnals in their choir practice. It’s a subdued performance that will stick with you and bother you long after the movie has reached its finale. Nyqvist’s version of Schaefer should go down as one of the scariest villains in all of cinema.

“Colonia” is based on a true story that needed to be told. The only letdown is it didn’t keep the independent film tone throughout the whole thing.





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