Starring: Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis, Dan Stevens
Director: Nacho Vigalondo
Running Time: 109 mins
Synopsis: Gloria (Hathaway) is having a bit of a crisis. Out of work and drinking heavily, enough to cause her boyfriend Tim (Stevens) to kick her out. She returns to her hometown in order to get her life in order but instead falls back in with old school friend Oscar (Sudeikis) drinking in his bar every night. After one such night she awakens to find a giant monster has stalked the streets of Seoul, a monster that somehow has an unusual connection with her.
Tackling emotional trauma, including such heady subjects as abuse, addiction and obsession, usually comes in the form of tear-inducing dramas. Ones that favour intense scenes of emotional hand-wringing alongside soulful scores. Effective they may be but director Nacho Vigalondo (Timecrimes) is not interested in the norm. Colossal is about the monsters within us all, literal monsters, who tear up the city of Seoul in actual fact. If this all sounds a little on the nose, Vigalondo never once bows to metaphorical simplicity, constructing a film of true power and depth.
Gloria is a mess. Seemingly spending her every evening out on the town, with people she is so distant from she doesn’t even know their names, and stumbling in hungover every morning to have an awkward shouting match with boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens-charming if underwritten). Kicking her out after one too many of these mornings she decides to return home to the empty house her parents left her. It is evident Gloria is struggling with addiction, past pain (we sense this in the small snippets of flashback that hint to something shocking) and an insecurity in her talents. These struggles are not going to be helped by the re-connection she makes with old friend Oscar. Owner of a local bar she soon finds herself drinking heavily every night with him and his two buddies.
It is all very watchable, with Vigalondo offering naturalistic camerawork and character encounters (he also scripts) but it is not until Gloria stirs one morning after one such binge to find a gigantic r.e colossal (sic) monster terrorising the streets of Seoul, that the surrealness kicks in. Rising above the budgetary limitations to deliver some pretty impressive monster scenes, notably all at night to hide such limitations, Gloria notices that this creature seems to be mimicking a nervous tic that she displays routinely. From here she comes to the realisation that at a set time each day and at a very specific location she is the one who summons this beast and therefore can control it. The whys and hows of this affliction are revealed (reveals I will not touch upon here) with confidence and patience.
Vigalondo conjures up some marvellously potent scenes from this discovery onwards. Using the intimate of Hathaway’s moving refreshingly non-histrionic performance and editing it smoothly with the occasionally brutal monster attacks gives the film a uniquely captivating vibe. But what is most unexpected is the way he slowly moves away from the monster stuff to hone in on the real themes at play. Addiction is where it begins, particularly in how it destroys those around as represented by, yes, the monster that destroys all around. However the film morphs into something else. It becomes a treatise on the nature of possessiveness and obsession in relationships, of jealously and above all else the way the past can never truly be escaped from. Gloria features in a lot of these themes but equally it is all seen in the surprisingly damaged Oscar.
Usually a laidback non-threatening presence Jason Sudeikis offsets his nice guy persona in a performance of real complexity. In fact he has deeper darker material than Hathaway, with Sudeikis delivering unpredictability, humour, intensity and nuance. It would be wrong of me to dive into this any deeper but theirs becomes the fulcrum of the entire film with it dovetailing into the genre material effectively. Speaking of genre Vigalondo is certainly having fun here too, not allowing the heavier subtext to gloss over the inherent silliness of the story. Offering up some token bits usually seen in the monster movie such as an OTT score, or the social media reaction to the beasts arrival. He even goes full Pacific Rim in a couple of encounters that shake the floor, and the speaker systems.
This film should not work, and I’m betting that it won’t wholly work for a few who may find the tonal shifts too unusual. There is a requirement to leave your sane mind at the door too, particularly come the revelation of how all this monster connection came to past. It is a reveal that would not feel out of place in the many many superhero films we see nowadays, but due to the believable character dynamics and naturalistic story evolution it could feel like a sharp turn for those not willing to go along with it. There are also frustrations with a few other characters surrounding the main two. As mentioned Stevens is solid but rather thin as Gloria’s ex. Never rising above the caring but impatient boyfriend staple. The two other friends in Oscar and Gloria’s circle are annoyingly neutered too. Austin Stowell and Tim Blake-Nelson give capable performances but their characters remain very aloof with little in the way of development. It also becomes increasingly noticeable that they do nothing to prevent some of the later, very preventable events, from occurring. It is hinted that they are both somewhat intimidated by Oscar, Blake-Nelson especially, but it never becomes overt enough to give us some semblance of understanding.
Verdict: Despite a few flaws Colossal is nothing short of brilliant cinema. Originality, invention and true passion in your story are all very much on show here. Plus where else can you see a giant monster dancing alongside Anne Hathaway?! What else could you possibly want??