How to describe Colossal, the 2016 offering from writer and director Nacho Vigolondo? It’s an oddity of a movie: it’s got a small cast, a limited scope, relatively few special effects, and yet with all that, it’s still about a giant monster knocking down buildings in South Korea.
The premise for Colossal is decidedly off-beat: Anne Hathaway plays Gloria, a down-on-her-luck New York party girl who has a serious drinking problem. When she is kicked out of her apartment by her boyfriend, she returns to her hometown in New England. There she reconnects with a childhood friend named Oscar (played by Jason Sudeikis), who now runs a bar: a development which only compounds her drinking problem.
Then, out of nowhere, the news hits that a giant Godzilla-like monster has started attacking Seoul, South Korea! Before long, Gloria comes to realize that the monster is actually her: as long as she is standing in a certain place at a certain time of day, the monster will manifest in Seoul and mimic her movements. The appearances only last for minutes, but they are lengthy enough for the creature to do terrible damage. Gloria is horrified at this realization, but at the same time her toxic personal problems compel her to “show off” this trick to Oscar and her friends, which in turn leads to even stranger things–(plot summary cut off at this point, to avoid big spoilers).
What really makes Colossal interesting is how the movie digs into the characters of Gloria and Oscar. Both of them have appealing, attractive facades, but under the right sort of stresses, they both reveal a kind of personal “monster” inside. The presence of the giant creature in Korea starts off as a kind of reflection of who Gloria is, but the bizarre occurrence quickly turns into a trigger for other events, which reveal both the best and worst of everyone involved. It’s this human drama which is the real heart of the movie, in spite of the bizarre backdrop.
The cast of the movie is strong. You can understand the appeal that Gloria has to the people around her, but Anne Hathaway plays her brokenness at just the right level below the surface. Jason Sudeikis is also good in the largely dramatic role of Oscar–a man with a lot of storms raging beneath his apparently thoughtful manner. The rest of the cast does a good job as well, including Dan Stevens as Gloria’s boyfriend in New York City and Tim Blake Nelson as one of Oscar’s friends.
The genre-defying premise behind the film actually reminds me of the sorts of things that I come up with on a semi-regular basis, but rarely follow through on. So it’s intriguing to see somebody go the distance with a concept like this and make a full story out of it, even one that is a bit dark for my tastes. Intriguingly, the movie even offers an explanation for what is happening, and uses the concept fully in its comparatively spectacle-heavy climax. It’s not fully plausible, of course, but it’s more satisfying than it would have been if it had all gone unexplained, and overall there is enough substance surrounding the spectacle to make it all worthwhile.