Colossal is a singularly strange, genre-blending reinterpretation of kaiju monster movies.
19 Apr 2017 - 10:22 AM  UPDATED 19 Apr 2017 - 10:25 AM

In case the film title doesn’t ring any bells, this is the ‘Anne Hathaway is somehow controlling a giant monster rampaging through South Korea’ movie.

Spanish director Nacho Vigalondo has written a script that starts in one unexpected, ridiculous place – and then takes you on an even more unexpected journey.

Gloria (Anne Hathaway) is the very definition of a ‘hot mess,’ out of work and struggling with alcoholism, when her actually kind of controlling boyfriend (Dan Stevens) breaks up with her and kicks her out of their apartment. She is forced to leave New York and return to her hometown, where she falls in with a crowd of people her age who never left town, including Oscar (Jason Sudeikis). 

Then, reports surface that a giant monster is destroying Seoul, and over the course of the attacks, Gloria comes to realise that somehow she is connected to this far-off phenomenon. Her personal crisis, which brought her back home, is having a colossal effect on the world.

Colossal runs the full gamut of genre in film, similar in some ways to director Charlie McDowell’s The One I Love, which took a sci-fi concept and then spiraled delightfully out of control. Colossal starts as a modern mumblecore flick about the pains of growing up, complete with ironic self-awareness. When Gloria and Oscar discuss renovating a Western-themed section of his bar, Gloria says, "It's like a Wes Anderson movie in here." He replies: "Well, I wish the music was better then."

But then Colossal becomes a monster film, then briefly presents itself as a rom-com, and then finally turns into a dark horror. What starts as a relatable, quirky film about being human (with a side of kaiju), quickly becomes a still relatable, depressing-as-hell exploration of toxic masculinity. Director Vigalondo described the film as “Godzilla meets Being John Malkovich”.

One of the most enjoyable things about watching Colossal is that, even if you’ve watched the Trailer, it’s difficult to predict what’s going to happen on screen next. In this reviewer’s experience, that is exceedingly rare for films.

The casting is spot on for the story they’re trying to tell. Anne Hathaway (who does not deserve the Hatha-hate of the past few years) is likeable enough that you feel sympathy, instead of merely exasperation, for our unlikeable, unemployed, self-absorbed protagonist. Dan Stevens is just severe enough that you sense you shouldn’t be rooting for his character, the exasperated boyfriend Tim. And the loveable bro Jason Sudeikis is as charming as ever as Oscar, until he’s suddenly not. It turns out Sudeikis can do more than just comedy; he can do downright frightening, too.

In kaiju films, the monster usually stands in for a thematic point; these creatures can be forces of nature, or the result of nuclear mutation, or the product of humans playing at God. In Hollywood monster movies, the giant scaly lizard, or otherwise, usually represents something pretty obvious (i.e. it turns out the monster has a heart of gold, and humans were the real monsters all along. Looking at you, Kong). Colossal is more nuanced, but also defies easy – or singular – explanations.

The real monster in Colossal could be addiction, and this is the story of a woman battling her inner demons. Or maybe the real monster is the patriarchy, and the focus of the story is a woman battling oppression, and the self-hatred, jealousy, desire to control and casual destructiveness of the male characters in the film. 

In Hollywood monster films, humans are often the real monsters. Here it’s not individual humans put under the scalpel, although we see our fair share of flawed characters dissected on screen. The real monsters are the structures that support all of the issues listed above.

And if you want to look at it more simply, maybe the monster is also just a monster. Battling a giant robot. So there’s something in Colossal for everybody.

Follow Melissa Wellham on Twitter and Instagram at @melissawellham. 

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