Imagine Argo, but worse and about Nazis, and you have Emma Watson’s new movie, Colonia. Set during the 1970s coup of General Pinochet in Chile, Colonia is a thriller (“thriller”) about a young couple in love escaping a prison-cult. It’s the political thriller version of Equals (click here to see my review of Equals), and like that movie, it’s not very good. Daniel Brühl co-stars as a political activist, conveniently also named Daniel, taken prisoner for creating propaganda for Salvador Allende. Lena (Watson) is his flight attendant girlfriend who risks everything to rescue him because…actually I don’t know why. We’re never given a compelling reason for Lena to risk so much to save Daniel, beyond the fact that they f*cked whenever Lena’s job brought her to Chile.
Daniel is taken to Colonia Dignidad, which is a real place, where he is tortured. The secret Nazi torture prison—it is established that cult leader Paul Schäfer is a Nazi—is fronted by a “religious order” which is really just a cult. The place was f*cking horrible and according to the titles at the end, only five people escaped in forty years of operation, which raises a question—why isn’t Colonia about one of those five people? Someone really did escape and photographs proving that Colonia Dignidad was actually a secret Nazi torture prison were smuggled out, but I can’t tell you about any of that without Googling it because this movie is not about that person or those events. Why not? That sounds like a helluva story, unlike the one I actually saw, which is dumb.
There’s a lot wrong here, from an over-reliance on horror and prison break clichés—OF COURSE there’s a tunnel escape—but one thing bound to draw the ire of some viewers is how Daniel protects himself while held inside the Colonia. After being brutally tortured and subjected to electroshock therapy, Daniel pretends to be a “retard”—a gross word he and others use several times—in order to trick Schäfer into ignoring him, thinking him good for nothing more than menial tasks. Brühl is generally a very good actor, but this is Simple Jack territory—except it’s not a joke. (This is exactly the kind of performance being mocked by Simple Jack.) I cringed every time he opened his mouth and stuttered out another broken phrase, shoulders hunched and sometimes even drooling. Colonia doesn’t yet have a US release date, but I can’t wait for wider audiences to get a load of this and go apesh*t because of Colonia’s Simple Jack.
Watson is serviceable as Lena, but she’s not asked to do much more than looked stressed or scared. Brühl is uncharacteristically bad, but that’s all Simple Jack’s fault, and Michael Nyqvist is cartoonishly evil as Schäfer, which is a waste because Schäfer was a genuinely evil person, a Nazi who also molested the boys who lived at the Colonia, not to mention all the secret Nazi torture stuff. But he’s interchangeable with any 1980s Rambo-type bad guy, although that actually kind of fits because this movie has a number of 1980s echoes, including a couple instances of really bad background CG.
The only time Schäfer feels truly menacing is when he has the little boys singing hymns in the shower as he undresses. You know what’s about to happen and it is skin-crawling, the only part of the movie that clicks into that gear. Despite the accent, I don’t think Nyqvist is actually suited to playing villains—he was similarly over the top in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, but at least he fit in better because those movies are over the top, too. And don’t even get me started on the ending, lifted directly from Argo. It’s completely ludicrous and veers into camp and I don’t know how Watson and Brühl kept a straight face. There’s a promising idea in the premise, but Colonia is nothing but schlock.
Attached - Emma Watson on the set of The Circle yesterday.