2017 | rated R | starring Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis, Dan Stevens | directed by Nacho Vigalondo | 1hr 49mins |
Colossal, the new film from Timecrimes director Nacho Vigalondo, is completely original and defiantly subversive. We’ve been conditioned by movies to react a certain way to short-hand cliches. To laugh at the wacky sidekick’s one-liners or be satisfied with the happy ending of two people getting together. We’ve also come to movies that look wacky and quirky and feature giant monsters to be comedies (for one, Transformers never needed to be a comedy). Colossal has it’s fun moments, but certainly isn’t a comedy and gets darker and more unsettling as it unfolds. It’s a classic “humans are the real monsters” story given a refreshing and wildly unpredictable new spin that will probably have people shifting uncomfortably in their seats rather than delighting in indie quirk that it’s trailer suggests. It’s got some mechanical and pacing issues, but those don’t prevent it from being one of the best movies of the year.
After loosing her job and being tossed out by her boyfriend (Dan Stevens), alcoholic party girl Gloria (Anne Hathaway) staggers back to her childhood hometown. Taking a job at a bar and falling in with a group of it’s owners (Jason Sudeikis and Tim Blake Nelson) Gloria’s struggles pale in comparison to the appearance of a giant monster that crashes through the streets of Seoul, South Korea terrorizing thousands and prompting a global response. Watching the footage on TVs and tablets, Gloria realizes that she somehow has the ability to puppet the monster from half a world away.
As with any fresh idea that hasn’t been done like this before, Vigalondo has to leap through a few hoops to turn this wild idea into a story, which means that Colossal is going to annoy those that demand concrete, realistic explanations in their movies. It is pure fantasy, it’s teased flashback explanation doesn’t exactly clarify things, but within that fantasy Vigalondo establishes a specific set of rules involving the time, place and parameters of Gloria’s power and plays fairly with them while unfolding new layers of weirdness and conflict that keep her attached to Seoul.
Vigalondo starts with a traditional Kaiiju monster movie and scratches it until he reveals the darker character exploration he is really interested in. Colossal could probably best be compared to Being John Malkovich. An indie movie, like nothing else, framed around an impossible phenomena, that’s big ideas transcend a small budget and indie shag. It’s humor is pitch black and that’s characters are ugly, selfish and fueled by a jealous feeling of being trapped in their lives. It’s a movie not about big monsters, but about what this group of unsavory people do when handed significant power – and how they abuses it. Vigalondo starts with a hang-out film and builds out the characters into clear hero and villain types in the most surprising and sly of ways; turning Kaiiju movie inspirations into a high stakes power metaphor. It’s not an overly visually appealing movie for a lot of it’s running time, but it compensates with another sense. The best scenes in Colossal involve it’s inventive use of sound. Sound effects masterfully laid over something ordinary that lets an audience’s imagination fill in the imagery.
The film’s pacing issues are quarantined to the first act. It starts slow. Not just slow, but jerky in a stop-start fashion, showing us every painful little step of Gloria’s hometown return where a glossier, more visually conscience, movie would have edited it into a snappy montage. It’s deliberate set up for what’s to come (I get it, her life is a disjointed and empty), but if the editing were a little tighter and the writing were a little stronger the first act wouldn’t feel so sluggish. The movie sets up base camp at the bar while our anti-heroes trade banter that isn’t nearly as clever as the movie seems to think it is. However, as the story unfolds it finds it’s rhythm in every area, feeling inspired by each revelation and swelling up the music and expanding the visuals frame as the story itself gets more cinematic.
Hathaway and Sudeikis are terrific here. Sudeikis has mastered the creepy undercurrent of controlling, self-professed good guys that feminists are afraid of. Hathaway makes an impossible premise convincing, which alone is an achievement. She is wonderfully expressive, playing a lot of nuance across her face as she grapples with gaining and losing control as the movie continues to close in the walls around her. We can’t go much further without getting into spoilers. Like Malkovich or Martyrs, Colossal is best viewed knowing nothing about it’s numerous turns. A third of the way in the movie finally hits the gas and doesn’t look back; rewarding patience and unfurling one bizarre onion peel layer after another – both in it’s mythology and in the caustic unraveling of it’s characters.
This movie has imagination to burn. Where many other high concept films run out of gas and falter to bring it all together in the final act, Colossal just kicks back and loads up it’s latest surprise. It’s an original story, unpredictably and engagingly told right up to it’s smashing cheer-the-hero finale. It’s also a movie about power, control and mental abuse. Like a lot of terrific movies it will be divisive – it is certainly not the wacky monster mash its ad campaign suggested – but it’s thorny reluctance to fit into any genre box is one of the reasons I love it so much. A must see rarity.
Hey, wait, Kaiiju movies are Japanese, right? Not always.