It was an ordinary night. I was flipping through Netflix, wanting to watch something I hadn’t seen before, something that would blow my socks off. I went through my list, along with the category “Dramas Featuring a Strong Female Lead”, and one film that kept popping up was Colonia, the 2015 thriller starring Emma Watson. Reading the description, it wasn’t exactly something I was in the mood for. But Emma Watson can pretty much sell me on anything, and I thought I might as well give it a chance! And I’m so glad I did.
Here’s what you need to know. If you look this film up, chances are you’re going to see it described as ‘historical’ and ‘romantic’. Please ignore this. While it has its romantic moments, there is no way this film could ever be considered a historical romance. It is a nail-biting thriller, made all the more horrifying because it is based on true events.
Colonia follows the story of Lena, a young flight attendant and her boyfriend, Daniel, a German photographer in Chile trying to restore justice to the country in turmoil. But when Daniel is abducted and taken to the infamous Colonia Dignidad, a colony from which none escape, Lena refuses to leave him to his fate. Risking her own life by infiltrating the colony, Lena discovers just how many unthinkable horrors a group of people can commit, and how difficult, if not impossible, it will be to get out.
Colonia Dignidad was a very real place, a colony run by Paul Schaefer, a former Nazi. The film delves into the horrific torture that residents undergo, and the atrocities committed by Schaefer himself, including child abuse. The film, by itself, is a thrilling tale that will keep you on the edge of your seat. But it’s so much more important that.
I’m going to be real with you. I had never heard of Colonia Dignidad (now named Villa Baviera) before last night. I had heard of Schaefer, of course, but my knowledge was extremely limited. I was simply never taught about it, as I’m sure many others weren’t. This film managed to tell an enthralling story, but what’s more, it was able to give the audience knowledge. A look into history that yes, is disturbing and terrifying on many levels, but is so incredibly necessary for us to know. You will find yourself shocked over and over again as you remind yourself that this colony existed. In the last 40 years. Let that sink in.
I could talk about the history of it all for at least a decent essay length, but I’ll spare you, and tell you a little about the actual characters and story themselves.
Emma Watson is a vision. At first, you find yourself shaking your head, wondering why she would take such a risk, even for love. But as time goes on, you can’t help but root for her. Her actions become completely understandable, almost deemed necessary. Our only thought becomes that she must do whatever it takes to get herself and Daniel out.
Daniel, played by the amazing Daniel Bruhl is a lovable and intelligent character who knows how to pull at the heartstrings. Again, another lead that you cannot help but root for. While Lena wants nothing more than to escape with their lives, Daniel wants to expose the colony for what it is, and will risk his life to do so. You relate to both of them as much as you want to scream at both of them, and that’s such a rare oddity to find in a film, but one that works brilliantly.
This ride only gets more suspenseful with each and every minute, and will keep up that atmosphere literally until the last second of the film. Unable to tear your eyes away from the screen, even when you want to, this film is crafted so beautifully that the ending will leave you feeling an entire range of emotions, leaving you both yearning for more and relieved that it’s over. But in the best way possible.
Whether this film is your kind of thing or not, I beg you to at least give it a try. Colonia is a dark, twisted, but brilliant story that needed to be told. Director Florian Gallenberger weaves this story in a uniquely gut-wrenching, awe-inspiring way, leaving you breathless and proving just how much a powerful story can affect you. It is definitely a must-watch.
As always, thanks for reading! And feel free to share your thoughts on the film in the comments!