Review by Rob Vaux
Starring: Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis, Dan Stevens, Tim Blake Nelson and Austin Stowell
Directed by: Nacho Vigalondo
Written by: Nacho Viaglono
Original Year of Release: 2017
Run Time: 110 minutes
It’s safe to say that you haven’t ever seen a giant monster movie like Colossal before. We should have expected as much from director Nacho Vigalondo, who approaches genre filmmaking in quietly brilliant ways every time he steps behind the camera. For proof, check out his 2007 debut Timecrimes (using a limited cast and almost no effects to give the time travel genre a brilliantly twisting near-masterpiece) or his brilliant opening to the otherwise reprehensible the ABCs of Death (seriously, you could watch the first five minutes and then turn the remainder off).
Now he turns his eye towards new territory, but as usual for him, the giant monsters are just part of the picture. He wants to talk about relationship abuse, alcoholism, the ability of the Internet to distort our perceptions, and a host of other notions. If he can do that and get a 50-foot lizard-thing running amuck in Seoul, so much the better. It’s not just that he pulls off such a strange and disorienting combination. It’s that he does so while making the resulting cocktail of tone and genre feel like the most natural thing in the world.
A little magical realism helps, since that allows him to do what he’s going to do without wrestling down a logical explanation. He starts with a typical – yet undeniably affecting – dramedy as a foundation, then builds up from there. We first meet his heroine, Gloria (Anne Hathaway), just as she hits rock bottom: an out-of-work writer sponging off of her long-suffering boyfriend (Dan Stevens) and kicking her drinking problem into high gear. When her beau finally has enough, she skitters back to her old hometown in a half-hearted effort to get her life on track.
Things look up when she runs into Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), a childhood friend now running a local bar. He gives her a job and a shoulder to cry on, and seems much sweeter than the guy who just bounced her to the curb. But dark rumblings echo beneath the surface. For starters, waitressing at a bar might not be the best way to address your alcoholism. Oscar has problems of his own, as well, and with Gloria barely capable of blowing up an inflatable mattress, the road ahead still looks pretty rocky.
That’s before the monster attacks: arriving in Seoul amid a flurry of instant YouTube videos and witnessed by Gloria and her new friends with head-scratching disbelief. Things get even weirder when Gloria realizes that she actually controls the beast… and that it might tie into her present circumstances in ways no one could imagine.
Vigalondo eventually provides an explanation as to why all this is happening, though it conforms more to the emotional truths of the characters than anything more rational. That’s largely by design, since the monster itself matters less to him than the woman inextricably connected to it. It gives him a nifty way to explore not only Gloria’s halting, chaotic attempts to turn over a new leaf, but the hidden (and surprisingly sinister) depths of her current situation. Issues of control, pain and denial all play out with the fate of a city on the other side of the world riding on the consequences. Gloria attempts to understand and exercise her power on both fronts at a point in her life where putting on pants constitutes a major victory. Colossal’s decision to plant its flag with her rather than the monster pays huge dividends without losing the child-like joy at watching a 50-foot freakazoid wreak havoc on a major civic center.
It also lets him play with notions of life in the Internet age, when everything comes filtered through big screens and small ones alike. We lose our ability to empathize with others when everything becomes distant entertainment, as well as buying into the distortions of social media without recognizing the quieter facts lying behind the gargantuan facades. Vigalondo has to juggle that notion (and others like it) amid an absurdist atmosphere that veers into the comical more than once, then spin on a dime and punch us in the gut right when we least expect it. He makes it look easy, not only in retaining the core emotional truths of his characters, but in keeping everything connected on a thematic level without descending into weird for weird’s sake.
The cast stays right in step with him, led by a turn from Hathaway that may cause even her most fervent haters to call for a cease-fire and a small handful of supporting players who dive full-bore into the material. Genre fans should warm to the concept immediately, but outsiders can find easy ways in as well. Indeed, Colossal makes a great way of examining the appeal of Godzilla and his ilk, and the ways they touch primal parts of ourselves with their otherwise simplistic shtick of knocking down buildings and drop-kicking tanks.
Indeed, it actually makes a lovely chaser to Skull Island, another terrific monster movie that focuses solely on the popcorn and leaves the more serious questions to… well to this one. Colossal avoids undue pretension or overthinking its kaleidoscope of ideas, but it doesn’t refrain from developing as many interesting notions as it can fit within its frame. Its wild originality doesn’t exist for its own sake: there’s a method to the madness, and Colossal takes great joy in showing it to us with elegance and smarts. A small amount of indulgence on the audience’s part produces some very tasty rewards.