The monster film has returned in a big way in the last few years, from the inspired Pacific Rim through to the revival of the Godzilla series. With COLOSSAL, writer/director Nacho Vigalondo uses the same unique lens he applied to sci-fi in Timecrimes to bring a comedic interpersonal drama to the kaiju genre.
Gloria (Anne Hathaway) is in the middle of a life-crisis as messy as a city after a monster attack. Unemployed and unable to keep her drinking under control, she’s kicked out by her New York apartment by her boyfriend and returns to her hometown. Reuniting with her classmate Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), her life becomes more complicated when Seoul is besieged by a giant monster – and Gloria realises that it might just be her.
With a little bit of that 1980s Amblin sense of wonder, COLOSSAL captures that same quietly measured approach to reality that Steven Spielberg, Colin Trevorrow (Safety Not Guaranteed) or J.J. Abrams do so well. Like the more recent monster fare from Gareth Evans (Monsters, Godzilla), the actual city destruction and creatures are initially viewed through filters: online videos, news reports, or even secondhand storytelling. Even with the convincingly impressive special creature and robot effects, a key to selling that side of the story, the narrative focus remains wholly on the slowly unfolding personal interactions of the leads.
As a straight analogy, Hathaway gives a terrific dramatic/comedic performance as a broken person who is slowly realising the damage she has done when blackout drunk. A running gag sees Gloria wake up in strange places with a crooked neck despite her best intentions. There’s genuine pathos to her path of self-realisation when she desperately asks “How many people did I kill?” While obvious in its parallels to the remorse of an alcoholic, it’s nevertheless a powerful shorthand.
Amongst its many surprises, COLOSSAL most shocks when it takes a turn towards becoming a missive on the nature of power and abuse. Both men in Gloria’s life, her ex (Dan Stevens) and Oscar, attempt to impose their own version of an ‘ideal Gloria’ on her. Indeed, how far Oscar goes to maintain his control will prove surprising when juxtaposed with the more lighthearted aspects of the film. How Gloria regains her own sense of self is perfectly in keeping with the spirit of the film, and a rousing moment as any destructive blockbuster equivalent.
Vigalondo’s film is a uniquely crafted piece, one that blends genres and moods in a way that may confound and frustrate some audiences. Even so there is an undeniable charm to the movie, aided greatly by the affable presence of supporting players Austin Stowell and Tim Blake Nelson, that rewards viewers who invest their faith in the deliberately paced first half. For others, there is something almost comforting in seeing familiar inner struggles engorged to their extremes and still able to be defeated by the most humble of players.