There’s a monster in all of us
Colossal is bound to be one of this year’s strangest movies. Written and directed by Spanish filmmaker Nacho Vigalondo, Timecrimes (2007), Colossal uses the kaiju genre (an odd choice) to explore themes of addiction, emotional abuse and childhood trauma, while subtly commenting on the dangers of the Internet era, particularly the sense of detachment it can create. Having generated mainstream attention due to its A-list stars, Anne Hathaway, The Devil Wears Prada (2006), and Jason Sudeikis, We’re the Millers (2013) — whose characters find themselves in midst of the city destroying mayhem — Colossal may look like your quirky run-of-the-mill rom-com; but make no mistake, this high-concept affair in much bleaker than it initially appears. With that said, part of the joy of Colossal is watching the story unfold in a less-than-predictable manner; therefore, if you wish to view the flick with a fresh set of eyes, I’d advise to jump to the last paragraph of my review.
Anne Hathaway plays Gloria, an alcoholic train-wreck living the Manhattan party life to the fullest. Problem is, she’s been out of work for about a year, mooching off her British boyfriend, Tim (Dan Stevens), who’s sick to death of her all-night benders and careless socialite attitude. Fed up, Tim packs Gloria’s bags and throws her out of his chic pad, until she can sort her life out. Penniless, Gloria moves back to her small-town home in upstate New York and crashes in her family’s conveniently abandoned house. There, she bumps into her childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), who’s managing a run-down bar he’d inherited from his folks. After offering Gloria a part time job at the tavern, she quickly falls back into her old self-destructive ways, drinking after hours with Oscar and his buddies, Garth (Tim Blake Nelson) and Joel (Austin Stowell), waking up hung-over, only to repeat the damaging cycle again the following night — but hey, at least she’s earning an income now.
One afternoon, Gloria wakes up to news of a two-horned monster that appeared over Seoul, South Korea, then vanished again in a thunderous cloud of smoke, at 8:05am, Gloria’s time, when she’s normally stumbling home from the bar, wasted, crossing a playground near her house — the creature having first been spotted about a quarter-century ago. The very next night, the wiry beast shows up again, at 8:05am, with our heroine noticing that the monster’s movements were in sync with those of her own, including a head-scratching tick that she picked up during childhood. After putting two and two together, the mortified Gloria realizes that she is the scaly kaiju that’s terrorizing Korea and that one drunken topple could spell certain doom for hundreds of innocent Koreans. Once Gloria shares her secret with Oscar and his pals, however, she wakes the following morning to some more startling news, with footage showing a gigantic robot now also in Seoul.
As you’d expect, the sightings have everyone glued to their screens, eager to find out when the gargantuan titans will return and what they’ll do next, with a ripper gag involving a ‘slap’ and a video that’s gone viral on social media highlighting the absurdity of the contemporary trend of watching news as entertainment.
Here’s where Colossal becomes something other than just a wacky kaiju movie, with filmmaker Vigalondo using the Goliath as a symbol for Gloria’s alcoholism, the monster carelessly wandering through the streets of Seoul, completely oblivious to how its actions are hurting others, this realization being the first step to Gloria’s rehabilitation.
Now, although Anne Hathaway plays well against type in an unglamorous self-parodying role, it’s Jason Sudeikis who really shines brightest, subverting his own lovable, goofy shtick. See, when we first meet Sudeikis’ Oscar, he comes across as a kinda charming, off-kilter romantic interest for Gloria, who initially helps her get back on her feet. Sure, some of his actions might feel a tad overzealous, such as furnishing part of Gloria’s pad; however, the more time we spend with Oscar, the more unsettling and unhinged his character becomes, his friendship with Gloria eventually showing signs of suppressed jealousy and resentment. Some of Oscar’s more outrageous actions — setting his bar on fire, for instance — seem to make little sense, too, these baffling moments possibly adding to the disturbed nature of his psyche. When Gloria stops drinking (and blacking out) to avoid turning into the Godzilla-sized monster that stomps on civilians, Oscar fears the worst in that Gloria will leave town and go back to her successful ex. Thus, he decides to use the kaiju ‘phenomenon’ to force Gloria’s hand, seeing as he knows how much she cares for the innocent people of Korea, the people that Oscar sees merely as tiny pixels on a digital screen and nothing else.
While Colossal explores dark human issues in a sharp, straight-faced manner, the narrative becomes a little sillier when Vigalondo attempts to give us an explanation behind the creature’s origin, which is linked to a childhood trauma — an event that sets the whole thing into motion. In order to digest the explanation, however, one really needs to suspend disbelief, which shouldn’t be much of a problem seeing as we’re watching a movie about enormous Seoul-crushing monsters. The quandary, though, lies in the fact that both Gloria and Oscar seem to have no recollection of such a traumatic event, which can be little hard to swallow, even for a fantasy film.
Crafted on a relatively small budget, filmmaker Nacho Vigalondo balances an intimate story of addiction, self-reflection and redemption with that of a moderately budgeted kaiju smackdown. Without the magic of ILM at his fingertips, Vigalondo relies heavily on his actors — with their movements standing in for the colossal beast’s actions — and audio — overlaying sounds of screams, roars and crashing debris — to illustrate what’s going on in the crowded city of Seoul. And just like that, a simple shot of Jason Sudeikis stomping around in a playground becomes something much weightier, and much more powerful, as it’s really the sound that keeps us connected to what’s happening over on the other side of the world.
Although Colossal may be too peculiar for mainstream audiences to digest, B-movie enthusiasts or those who enjoy flicks of an outlandish ilk might find themselves pleasantly surprised by this one. An eccentric tribute to classic Japanese kaiju/ tokusatsu cinema, Nacho Vigalondo’s newest picture is bound to do colossal things for the 40-year-old filmmaker’s career, as I, for one, am eager to see what the Spaniard will bring us next!
3.5 / 5 – Great
Reviewed by Mr. Movie