Colossal Film

Don’t see it alone.

You’re likely to see the phrase, ‘Don’t see it alone’, plastered across billboards advertising a horror movie, implying you may need someone to cling to while watching. The same ought to be said for Nacho Vigalondo’s latest genre-bending, defiantly unconventional drama-comedy Colossal, but not because it’s a scary film. You shouldn’t see this alone because afterwards you’re going to need to talk it out with someone. It’s a weird trip, filled with plot-twists and tonal shifts as pronounced as Paul Verhoeven’s Elle. The biggest question it raises, though, is, ‘Does the whole thing work?’

After being dumped by her boyfriend and kicked out of their apartment because she’s ‘out of control’, Gloria (Anne Hathaway) moves back to her hometown. She bumps into Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), an old friend from school, and winds up working at the bar he owns. Then, things get pretty weird. After a night of heavy drinking, Gloria flips on the TV to find a skyscraper-dwarfing monster attacking the city of Seoul. Pretty soon, she discovers that she controls its movements from the playground near her place.

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Sounds like a parable for alcoholism, right? The monster as a metaphor for her self-destructive behaviour actually having broader consequences is nothing particularly unique. Critics have been careful not to spoil the plot’s many transmutations, because part of the film’s unique viewing experience is the ride it takes viewers on. However, it’s worth knowing a little of what you’re getting into with Colossal. When Oscar reveals himself to be a villain, the film becomes concerned with power dynamics in relationships, the nature of control and how toxic masculinity broils underneath the surfaces of even the guys who seem really nice.

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It has to be said that this is Hathaway’s best role. She showed she had an edge playing Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises, but roles like hers in Interstellar and the atrocious Rachel Getting Married have made her seem meek and overly earnest. As Gloria she shows a sly and cynical side subtly underplayed to remarkable effect. She carries the film’s bizarre premise with a performance that encourages you to empathise with her, even if you don’t quite understand what’s going on. Sudeikis, better known as a comic actor, also plays against his type, but isn’t nearly as successful as his co-star. He has some genuinely chilling moments (a certain scene in a bar with a giant firecracker ramps up the tension), but he plays a complexly written character a little one-dimensionally.

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Vigalondo’s script is both Colossal’s best feature and its biggest problem. The film is funny enough the trailers marketed it as an indie comedy, which it is not, and the dramatic scenes are taken seriously. The underlying message deserves close analysis of all the ways Vigalondo sketches a character who attempts to wrap a broken woman around his little finger to hide his own disappointments. Where it falters, and massively, is in the Seoul sequences. While the characters in the US are given complex backstories and intimate relationships, the citizens of Seoul are straight out of an old Japanese Godzilla movie: a teeming mass of panicked voices too stupid to evacuate the town under constant threat. Vigalondo might be saying something about America’s complacence towards issues in the wider world and the typical self-absorption of a bunch of alcoholics, but his approach comes across as lazy and complacent with the attitude he seems to be critiquing.

Because of the faulty conceit, Colossal doesn’t completely work. That doesn’t mean that the film isn’t a hugely rewarding and original viewing experience, it’s just kind of a frustrating one, too.


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