However earnest his intentions may have been, German director/co-scenarist Floran Gallenberger (“John Rabe”) serves up a ludicrous exercise in lower-end genre cliches that just might work as a glossy thrill ride for viewers oblivious to the actual events it haplessly trivializes.But with critical support unlikely, this borderline-hysterical potboiler is bound to struggle for a theatrical foothold in most territories, its salable elements ensuring better returns in ancillary.The notion that any effort is going to be spent backgrounding characters or the milieu is dispelled right at the outset, as Lufthansa stewardess Lena (Watson) has barely deplaned a flight to 1973 Santiago before she spies boyfriend Daniel (Bruhl) busily saving the world from her airporter van.
Women are ruthlessly subjugated, and sometimes chosen for violent abuse at the evening “men’s gatherings.” Headmistress Gisela (Richenda Carey) hisses “You look like a slut” at our heroine (who’s dressed about as provocatively as Mary Poppins), then whips her when Lena has the nerve to almost faint from exhaustion during field work.
Meanwhile, “Father” Schafer seems to have created a pederast’s paradise for himself, with his pick of young boys he’s had raised collectively, separated from their individual parents.
Despite all this mayhem, and the seemingly rigid discipline in daily operation, our leads seem to find loads of opportunities to sneak off together, plotting their escape.
When the president is overthrown by military coup, Daniel finds himself identified as the leftists’ poster designer, and is hauled off by Pinochet’s forces.
Lena figures out he’s been taken to Colonia Dignidad, an innocuous-sounding but much-feared pseudo-religious community compound 200 miles to the south, where it’s believed many political dissidents are tortured and killed. But he survives his prolonged electroshock “interrogation” in the compound’s secret tunnel labyrinth and is assigned grunt labor as a presumed newly made “retard” in the above-ground realm of Colonia founder Paul Schafer (Michael Nyqvist).
Schafer is a self-styled minister whose strictly gender-segregated farm/retreat no one apparently ever leave — if they try, electrified barbed-wire fences offer a powerful dissuasion.Lena applies as a noviate, learning quickly that this supposed place of worshipful retreat is more like 60% concentration camp meets 40% Jonestown.“Colonia” starts out as something that’s frequently a bit dubious — the vaguely “based on true events” thriller thrusting fictive Western visitors into some exotic locale’s actual historical natural or political disaster, which they then try to flee — before turning into something else entirely.Something reminiscent of 1970s women-in-prison and Italian Nazisploitation movies.Which is bizarre, because this hyperbolic suspenser starring Emma Watson and Daniel Bruhl as European lovers in Central American really is inspired (however loosely) by very grim chapters of 1970s Chilean history.So why does “Colonia” recall that era’s most trashily lurid cinematic products than, say, Patrizio Guzman’s documentary epic “The Battle of Chile,” which is duly, almost sacrilegiously excerpted under the opening credits?