It’s not easy pinpointing the genre of a film that goes out of its way to be so intentionally odd, but for argument’s sake, let’s make it simple; it’s a monster movie. Though, it certainly incorporates other elements, such as romance, some comedy, violence, and a heavy dose of serious relationship drama, but ultimately it’s the monsters that dominate, and here there are two of them.
In the new monster movie Colossal written and directed by Nacho Vigalondo, something happened twenty five years ago, and its hard to explain exactly what. Somehow, out of what looked like an electrical storm hovering above the city of Seoul, South Korea, an enormous creature with a slightly demonic looking head materialized out of a cloud and stomped its way around some buildings. Then it vanished.
Cut to present day New York. Gloria (Anne Hathaway) lost her job over a year ago and has since spent her time being a drunken waste of space while leaching off her boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens). “You’re a mess,” he tells her when she turns up yet again at the apartment in a bleary state after another all-nighter. “You’re out of control!” he declares, then promptly evicts her.
With no job, no prospects, and worst of all, no money to buy more booze, she leaves the city and heads back to the one place that might offer a roof over her head; the (conveniently) empty family home in the small town of her childhood where the front door key remains under the mat on the porch. Within minutes of purchasing a blowup bed and dragging it across town, Gloria meets an old friend from early schooldays, Oscar (Jason Sudeikis). Oscar inherited his dad’s bar, and immediately offers Gloria a job. A waitress. In a bar. Surrounded by booze. She takes it.
Here’s where it gets weird again. On the other side of the world, back in Seoul, that same monster has materialized. Another huge cloud, another electrical storm, and bam, there it is, stomping Godzilla-like throughout a certain section of town, just like twenty-five years ago. But this time, due to broadcasting, communications and laptops, the whole world can see it happening as Breaking News, including Gloria who somehow – and don’t ask why – thinks there’s a link between her and the monster on the other side of the world. When she scratches her head, so does the monster. When she moves an arm in a certain fashion, so does the monster; the same arm.
“It’s a machine run by remote control,” states Garth (Tim Blake Nelson) down at Oscar’s bar as he cradles his beer. “It never looks down,” he adds.
It’s not a machine, and if anyone is jumping ahead and thinking it’s all an extension of Gloria’s fevered imagination brought on by drunkenness, something akin to James Stewart’s invisible rabbit Harvey that only he could see, then stop. It’s not that kind of film. It really is a giant monster, and it really is stepping on people and knocking over buildings in Seoul, and it always seems to happen around 8:05 am, about the same time when Gloria, thousands of miles away, staggers bleary-eyed through a nearby children’s playground on her way home after an all-nighter at Oscar’s bar. And there’s more weirdness. When that scaley monster in South Korea is suddenly approached by a giant robot in red, Gloria realizes that the Transformer-like creature is actually connected to Oscar, who, it will soon turn out, is a total, possessive jerk with an enormous grudge.
Hathaway and Sudeikis work well together. Some of their early scenes have a light, amusing, ad-libbed quality to them. Sudeikis in particular is strengthening as a film actor in a way his initial, post SNL big screen appearance never suggested. With Oscar, his behavior ranges from friendly, insulting, apologetic, to ultimately downright dangerous, and each played with conviction. He’s funny, but he’s also authentically threatening. There may be two monsters on the other side of the world, but there’s another right on Gloria’s doorstep.
Whether there’s a political parallel to be drawn with Colossal depends on how much you enjoy looking for meaning. The film could possibly be saying that some seemingly inconsequential actions made stateside have horrendous consequences overseas; just because some of the things that we do or the decisions we make have no direct affect on us doesn’t mean they’re not a matter of life or death elsewhere in the world. There’s also the theme of what could happen if you bottle up a lifetime of jealousy and rage; a monster within could always emerge. And as for being drunk, alcoholism and its toxic consequences are never a laughing matter. But perhaps in the end, the film is really just a creatively strange and eccentric American twist on the Japanese kaiju monster movies, with a conclusion that is really asking a lot.
There’ll be two reactions to Colossal. One; you’ll either find the whole thing stupid and want to join Gloria at the bar in order to forget it, or two; you’ll accept all of its weirdness and stick around for the ride in order to find out what happens next. I went for the ride.
MPAA Rating: R Length: 110 Minutes Overall Rating: 7 (out of 10)