Tagged German

Colonia is a Glazed Over Historical Thriller

Colonia. 2016. Directed by Florian Gallenberger. Screenplay by Gallenberger & Torsten Wenzel.
Starring Emma Watson, Daniel Brühl, Michael Nyqvist, Richenda Carey, Vicky Krieps, Jeanne Werner, Julian Ovenden, August Zirner, Martin Wuttke, Nicolás Barsoff, Steve Karier, Stefan Merki, Lucila Gandolfo, Johannes Allmayer, & Gilles Soeder. Majestic Filmproduktion/Iris Productions/Rat Pack Filmproduktion.
Rated 14A. 110 minutes.
Drama/History/Romance

★★★
POSTER The story of Colonia Dignidad – a.k.a Dignity Colony – and its enigmatic, terrifying leader Paul Schäfer is not a story many in the Western world know. Schäfer was German, escaping charges of child molestation and sexual assault, and founded the colony in 1961. Under Schäfer, the colony was immersed in eccentric religion, as well as an authoritarian rule by their leader himself. They were not allowed to see their loved ones, from parents to children to spouses. Above all else, Schäfer was a misogynist whose deep-seated issues with women is evident through how he ran his little cult. Even the Angel of Death hismelf, Josef Mengele, has been confirmed to have been at the colony during some point by both the Central Intelligence Agency, and also famed Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal. So on top of the fact he was simply an abuser wrapped in the clothes of a father figure and a mentor, Schäfer further had ties with Nazi Germany and the SS, which only makes things more disturbing.
And so, with stories of people escaping, fleeing the brutal abuse and the authoritarianism, Colonia is based on true events. This is the story of one man whose disappearance at the hands of military men landed him in Colonia Dignidad, and whose wife never gave up looking for him. With a couple spectacular performances from Daniel Brühl, Emma Watson, and Michael Nyqvist, this is better than the average ‘Based On a True Story’ fare. Although, the film is not perfect. Whereas Schäfer was German, and many Germans were a part of the group, there feels to be a significant lack of Chilean actors and characters in general, outside of the military men and the brief appearances of General Augusto Pinochet. In a day and age where whitewashing films is all too common, and for a film that’s set in Chile, it’s hard to imagine why they didn’t include more of the Chilean people, as they were also very affected – not only by Schäfer, but by Pinochet, who used the colony as a secret camp for torture, murder, and much more.
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In 1973, Lena (Emma Watson) works as flight attendant, while her husband Daniel (Daniel Brühl) is a photographer and semi-activist. Joining protests in the streets against General Augusto Pinochet, Daniel gets abducted and separated from his wife by DINA, Pinochet’s secret police. He is whisked away to a secretive black site where they torture him relentlessly, at least until Paul Schäfer (Michael Nyqvist) comes to take him away after he’s almost been shocked into being mentally challenged. Schäfer takes Daniel to Colonia Dignidad, which is supposedly a charitable religious organization he runs. Only it is so much more. When Lena digs up the truth, she joins Colonia Dignidad. What she discovers ranges from sexual and physical abuse, to cult-like activities, as well as the fact Schäfer operates the colony as a black site where Pinochet brings various political prisoners for torture, and most often death. What follows is Lena’s desperate attempt to save her husband from Schäfer and the colony’s deadly grip.
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In terms of directing, there’s nothing overly impressive other than a generally decent atmosphere and look to the film. What’s most impressive in this mediocre film is the acting. Both Daniel Brühl and Emma Watson are each excellent in their lead roles. Brühl’s role is technically smaller, even if his character’s situation drives the plot, but that doesn’t mean it comes as any less intense. Especially when DINA rushes him off to Pinochet’s secret spot in the colony, then we watch him get tortured into an almost regressive state of human behaviour. Even better, his character then puts on act to try and keep himself under the radar, which showcases Brühl’s ability to jump from one part of his range to another quickly. Most of all, it’s Watson who carries the cast. She is a happy-go-lucky-type at the start, but as Colonia wears on her demeanour is forced to change. Through the series of events that come down her character Lena becomes someone paranoid (and rightfully so), impossibly tough, and also hardened. I’ve always loved Watson since Harry Potter because she is charming and energetic, and like Brühl has an incredible amount of range. If anything, you’ll stick with the film strictly to watch her performance.
Also, I can’t go on without mentioning Michael Nyqvist. He is a huge talent. Of course most know him after The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the whole Millenium trilogy alongside Noomi Rapace. Me, I’ve personally been a fan of his from the time of 2005’s horrifically psychological/Hitchcockian Norwegian thriller Naboer. First of all, Nyqvist actually sort of resembles the real life Paul Schäfer, which is always a plus for an actor playing a real life person; not always required if their performance can transcend appearance, but here it helps simply because Schäfer was an eerie sort of man. Nyqvist appears almost saviour-like in his first moments, then gradually we’re introduced to his other persona, the one which hides behind the big gates and the militarized border of Colonia Dignidad. Over the course of the film he becomes monstrous, so much so that even his presence onscreen is enough to unsettle you without requiring dialogue. If it weren’t for Nyqvist, Schäfer could’ve easily been a copy of a copy. Instead he is highly terrifying from one moment to the next, and the angry, misogynistic violence inside Schäfer can emerge explosively, unexpected with Nyqvist in the role.
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While director Florian Gallenberger doesn’t do anything wild in regards to directorial choices, he is successful at keeping Colonia extremely tense. Both Gallenberger and Torsten Wenzel have come up with a decent enough screenplay, despite not exploring the Chilean side of things/Pinochet enough for what the subject matter commands. Nevertheless, each scene is more tense than the last. And the finale is a particularly pulse-pounding experience, as you wonder whether the married couple will finally escape Chile, the colony, and above all Schäfer. But ultimately, Colonia is a 3-star film. If there were some better additions to the screenplay concerning the politics, the dark connections of Schäfer to people like the Nazis, Mengele, even Pinochet and DINA, then perhaps the story might’ve elevated things further. Yes, we do get bits and pieces of the Pinochet reign of power included, as the General comes for weapons, to check on those being tortured, so on, there just simply isn’t enough. Most of the story is focused on the day-to-day of the colony, and that’s fine. However, with a story that’s incredibly political, Gallenberger and Wenzel stick a little too closely to the smaller emotional story at its center. If you go in knowing this, expecting only a tight dramatic look at the married couple and their awful experience, then it may make the film better. There’s simply too much more in the real story that wasn’t told, and with only three solid actors to hold it up the film never reaches anything past being a decent historical drama with some romance and thrills mixed in for taste.

Frankenstein’s Army is Campy and Creepy Nazi Horror Fun

Frankenstein’s Army. 2013. Directed by Richard Raaphorst. Screenplay by Miguel Tejada-Flores & Chris W. Mitchell from a story by Tejada-Flores & Raaphorst.
Starring Robert Gwilym, Hon Ping Tang, Alexander Mercury, Luke Newberry, Joshua Sasse, Mark Stevenson, Andrei Zayats, Karel Roden, Klaus Lucas, Cristina Cataline, Jan de Lukowicz, & Zdenek Barinka. MDI Media Group/Dark Sky Films/Pellicola/XYZ Films/Sirena Film/Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic/The Czech Film Industry Support Programme.
Rated R. 84 minutes.
Action/Horror/Sci-Fi

★★★★POSTER There are no end to people sick of the found footage sub-genre, no matter how it’s used or in what genre it gets repurposed. I’m not one of them, though. For me, if a film can find a way to use found footage that’s at least a little fresh, unique in some way, then I’m really able to get into it. Frankenstein’s Army chooses to not only mash-up the horror and war genres, it further throws in some Mary Shelley DNA with a found footage setup. Honestly, even if it’s not your cup of tea in the end, this is at the very least an idea worth giving a chance.
The film has a lot of creepy things going for it, as well as the fact so much of everything is done practically, using long takes that lend themselves to the found footage format. Director Richard Raaphorst tells an interesting story with an incredibly terrifying plot that never quits. While not everything works all of the time, Frankenstein’s Army is fairly well acted, and the monsters – oh, the monsters! Above all, the horrifying creatures are exactly one of the major reasons why this is effective. Plus, the feeling of a movie trying hard to do some unique monster work, especially through practical effects, is something we’re not often seeing these days. With a few things that could’ve been improved most of the movie is entertaining, as well as dark and definitely disturbing.
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On orders from Josef Stalin himself, near the end of World War II a group of Russian soldiers are sent on a mission for the Fatherland. Stalin specifically requests they film everything, so that it might make Russia proud. The troop end up hearing of a number of other soldiers in need of help. When the come across the caretaker of a church, the Russians are led into a terrifying house of horrors; a place where strange creatures lurk in every corner. But what starts as merely an isolated incidents devolves into the soldiers pushing through a massive German factory filled with awful monsters, pieced together from living flesh and metal, pieces of machinery, even propellers. When they discover the caretaker is really Dr. Viktor Frankenstein (Karel Roden), descendant of the original Dr. Frankenstein, the group of soldiers descend into what may as well be Hell.
As the nastiness piles up, none of them are sure they’ll survive until the war is over – in fact, it’s just begun.
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After 4,200+ films and counting, a good chunk of those horror, I tend to believe not a whole lot truly scares me. Although, every so often there are things that creep me out, give me a few chills. I must say, there are a couple moments here where I found a creep or two. One scene is after Dmitri (Alexander Mercury) gets tossed down a chute by his fellow soldier, then a creature comes in and grabs a dead body nearby – right after, as Dmitri turns the camera I found that, plus several moments afterwards fairly unsettling. It didn’t shock me to the core, but the way it’s filmed is unsettling. Then once Dmitri goes further and ends up in an office, finding a teddy bear with a woman’s head sewn onto it, the whole thing goes from unsettling to disturbing (check the credits; you’ll find out who that woman-teddy bear is). I love this whole section because then we start getting into the Frankenstein aspect.
And that’s another big reason why I enjoyed the screenplay. Because Frankenstein adaptations are a dime a dozen, or movies and stories that draw from Mary Shelley, such as ‘modern retellings’ and so on. Yet Frankenstein’s Army takes the legacy of the infamous doctor and extends it so that World War II, the Nazis and all they were up to, gets included. That opens up a whole new aspect to the story because the Nazis were into a lot of things experimentation-wise, from medical experiments to hopeful tries towards making ‘supermen’. The original Dr. Frankenstein may as well have gone on to be a Nazi doctor because his work was out of control as it was, attempting to essentially play God, which his supposed descendant here takes to an entirely new level of disturbed.


Many found footage films suffer from a dearth of proper acting. Here, though, we get a main cast who do a fairly good job carrying the material. In addition, Dr. Viktor Frankenstein is played by the ever fabulous Karel Roden, whose talent gives the film an extra quality in the final 20 minutes. His exuberance is terrific, as Viktor starts out subtle then moves quickly into mania, with each minute getting wilder and wilder. Watching him walk around the factory explaining his process, talking of his family history and more, it is quite a treat. In the most morbid way possible. If it weren’t for the actor playing Dmitri and Roden as Frankenstein this wouldn’t have such an interesting finale. But really, the entire cast does a decent job, aside from the old German man that ends up with the soldiers for a short time, along with a boy (the kid wasn’t so bad). It’s not award-winning acting, however, it does the job. Again, the final half hour is a ton of fun, especially the last 19 minutes or so. Dmitri has to endure watching plenty of terror, a few patches of blood and guts, too. It is a grueling end, but packs a gruesome punch.


I’ve got to give Frankenstein’s Army a 4-star rating. Yes, things could’ve been improved at certain points, perhaps some of the bits with the soldiers would do well with a tightening of the screenplay. But it is still one hell of an entertaining horror, bits and pieces of action thrown in and a heavy splash of science fiction. The genre mash-up, all captured in the found footage sub-genre, is spectacular and whereas some films try to do that then end up with too much this movie keeps its eye on the prize. Because really what it aims to be is a monster flick, a creature feature of sorts. Only the jumping-off point is WWII, Nazis, with that extra spice of Frankenstein stirred in. You can do much worse than this if looking for a weird horror to enjoy, or a found footage film. It at least employs the sub-genre in a different way than most of the ‘lost in the woods yelling’ or ‘trapped in a mental hospital yelling’ found footage efforts out there already. Give it a chance.