The Colony (2015)

Florian Gallenberger’s thriller The Colony (Colonia) dramatises events following Chile’s 1973 coup.

Cult Fiction

by Alexa Dalby

The Colony

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

The Colony is a thriller inspired by real events in Chile in 1973, when a coup led by General Pinochet overthrew President Allende. Out of these political events director Florian Gallenberger has created a simplistic thriller with a romance at its centre.

Emma Watson (Harry Potter series and Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring) is Lena, a Lufthansa flight attendant. She flies into Santiago and straightaway, conveniently, sees her boyfriend, photographer Daniel (Daniel Brühl, Captain America: Civil War), a political activist, addressing a crowd of protestors. The next day, the coup happens. The two run out into the streets, Daniel, of course, wielding his camera and, of course, they get arrested by the army and taken with many others to the football stadium, where Daniel is denounced and removed. Lena is released, and learns that he has been taken to the notorious torture camp Colonia Dignidad. She poses as a convert to go undercover to rescue him, despite warnings that no one ever returns from there. The camp is like an outpost of Bavaria, even down to the lederhosen, run like a prison camp as a repressive Jim Jones-style religious cult by brutal dictator Pious (real name Paul Schäfer, played by Michael Nyqvist of the Millennium Triology) aided by viciously authoritarian nun Gisela (Richenda Carey). Though she expected to be embedded in the community for just a week, months pass until she discovers Daniel, who is pretending to be brain damaged as a result of the electric shocks he received in the underground torture chambers beneath the camp, and they make an escape plan.

The film is a strange mix of genres. Though the romance is at the centre and the politics just a backdrop, the two characters thinly drawn and are bizarrely lacking in back story. The story centres on two Germans rather than that of any Chilean dissidents, though perhaps that is explained by the cult leader being German, and Gallenberger has explained the other links between the camp and Germany which drew him to the story. However, too much emphasis is placed on the love story. In a strange convention, everyone speaks English, except for a few words of Spanish when speaking to the army, but in any case the dialogue is cliched, stilted and unrealistic. The torture camp scenes seem to focus on sadism to women and there are unexplored hints at paedophilia.

It’s clear that Gallenberger is well-intentioned but his film trivialises what was a terrible reality. As the credits explain, thousands of Chileans were tortured and killed at Colonia Dignidad and only five ever escaped. There was an international outcry when the truth was discovered but nothing changed. Paul Schäfer was eventually tried and imprisoned and died in 2010.

The Colony is released on 1 July 2016 in the UK.

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