“Colossal” (2017): Monster Manipulation Mastery

Colossal really isn’t a film for mainstream audiences. Despite a cast that includes pretty big stars and giant monsters, the premise is rather strange and the tone is far darker than advertising would let on. Director Nacho Vigalondo (Timecrimes, Open Windows) takes the concepts of a massive kaiju and applies it to these more human characters. Basically, it feels like a complete subversion of the issues with both Godzilla (2014) and Kong: Skull Island in terms of actually focusing on the characters involved rather than leaving them in the dust for the giant monsters. Colossal as a title is less a descriptor of the creatures and more the heavy emotional steps these humans go on. The monsters here serve as a catalyst for the ever changing character dynamics. Much in the vein of the time loop in Groundhog Day. That may seem disappointing to some, but those willing to go along for the ride could find Colossal to be a truly unique genre exercise in subversive filmmaking.

This subversiveness centers around Gloria (Anne Hathaway), a young woman living in New York with some serious issues. She hasn’t had a job for a year, goes out with her friends all night, sleeps all day and can’t hold her liquor. Her actions reach a boiling point with her boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens), who kicks her out. So, she moves back to her hometown in Middle America, living in her parents’ vacation house while trying to get her life together. Gloria runs into her old school buddy Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), who runs his late father’s bar and hires her as a part time waitress. The two end up returning to their friendly status, hanging out at the bar after hours with Garth (Tim Blake Nelson) and Joel (Austin Stowell). As Gloria continues her drunken habits, a giant monster starts appearing in Seoul, South Korea, with erratic patterns of destruction. However, Gloria also starts to notice a Colossal coincidence in how her movements in a drunken stupor mirror the destruction in Seoul.

That’s about as much as I want to reveal about the plot of Colossal. From that point on, it becomes a far more intense example of character focused science fiction. The monster element of it is there and often a great source of comedy. The effects – while often covered in shadows – are rather impressive for a lower budget character comedy of this type. Colossal has an incredibly fun time giving us the scale and gravity of the situation while taking advantage of its unique premise for the sake of relatable curiosity. The design for the main creature recalls the kaiju villains of Guillermo Del Toro’s Pacific Rim, which feels like an intentional subversion once the role of the monster becomes more of a factor. Vigalondo clearly takes advantage of the human curiosity at hand and shows off the weight and corruption that any human can fall into, both for comedic and brutally dramatic effect. The balance between the exciting discovery and ultimate gravity of the power Gloria has is delicate. Yet, Vigalondo handles it with a pair of feet that daftly walk that tightrope to the benefit of the story as it unravels.

Case in point, Anne Hathaway’s Gloria. Gloria is one of the more complex characters Hathaway has had to deal with in her career. There are shades of the trainwreck groundedness of Rachel Getting Married and the bubbly charm of The Princess Diaries in Gloria. Yet, Hathaway rarely has to deal with both while figuring out the gravity of a situation like the one in Colossal. There’s so much to juggle, particularly as things become much more helpless for Gloria along the way. In the wrong hands, her journey could come off as either incredibly rushed or far more passive than the story implies. The comedy the endears us to her could easily clash with the stakes involved in a giant monster attack. Luckily, Hathaway sends out the right type of complicated vibes in Colossal to illustrate that her arc here isn’t necessarily complete. She displays growth, but not enough to solve all her problems even with the scale of her situation. This helps to keep us level with Gloria without forgetting her flaws, making her one of the more three dimensional female characters in any genre film of the last few years.

At the same time, this really shouldn’t bypass Jason Sudeikis’ turn as Oscar. Sudeikis’ Colossal role serves as the thematic crux of the entire film. He has this initial inviting sensibility that Sudeikis has displayed many times in his more mainstream comedy roles. Specifically, a nice homegrown friend that in a lesser film would end up being connected to Gloria in a far more cliche fashion. Yet, Vigalondo gives Sudeikis a role that shows off his more intricate range as an actor. One that admittedly seems wonky early on as the tone shifts to the dark. Yet, that bumpy road gives us the unpredictable nature of Colossal, where the destructive potential of a kaiju ends up playing into the way we treat one another. Oscar helps to make Colossal one of the few truly modern examples of the kaiju genre. The thematic depth of his character removes the giant monster concept from the tired trends of Hiroshima and Beauty Killed The Beast into firmly modern conceits of gender roles and power struggles.

The relationships between the people in this situation is probably the most realistic element that separates Colossal from most other comedies, genre or otherwise. There’s an authentic awkwardness between everyone. We get a sense of the relationships without having things spelled out too much. For example, the idea that Oscar has been friends with Garth and Joel long enough to where there’s an unspoken loyalty that helps to make sense of some actions later on. Especially since it seems like the only real activity Joel and Garth have going on in their lives. Just sitting there and drinking with each other at the bar. It gives a base of small town inclusiveness so that the subversive element can sting all the more later on. If anything, the only real issue with Colossal is the loose ends left with either of these two. Joel in particular, given his more heady involvement with Gloria as the plot chugs along. Colossal doesn’t even get into the potentially wider complications of the conceit, which allows for the story to stay intimate until it’s needed to give the characters more life.

Colossal is clearly hard to explain without going knee deep into spoilers. There’s a lot to unravel, but not in a fashion where one feels lost. Instead, the unraveling relays a film that’s incredibly relevant to our messy modern cultural landscape. Colossal choses to be as complex and unclassifiable as its main character. Subverting traditions of narrative and tone for the sake of telling an unique story of lingering emotional baggage and the sinister underbelly of human interaction. It’s a darkly comedic look at the lack of empathy people can have and how often we simply rely on others to fix our own problems. It’s telling when the biggest silver lining of hope is someone just trying to get their own shit together. Colossal takes the kaiju genre into completely new directions, something it needs to do in order to evolve. Whenever one talks about a film being “different” or “interesting” in a modern context, it’s usually something that doesn’t fit into a box that’s easy to pin down. If you’re a genre fan willing to stretch out and enjoy something that takes the genuine risk to shade the genre into a modern real world context, Colossal is the type of film you’ve been waiting for.

Rating: 4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)

Thomas Mariani
Thomas Mariani is a born geek, with a bit of nerd mixed in here & there. A native of the (less) swampy parts of Florida, Thomas has always been a fan of films, television & other sources of media ever since he was a child, having been raised on Jim Henson, Star Wars and the basic cable cartoons of the ’90s & ’00s.

Some of his favorite horror films include Evil Dead II, Poltergeist and An American Werewolf in London. He already has experience writing and podcasting about pop culture, which you can read/listen to on sites like www.oneofus.net, www.horrornews.net or even on twitter as @NotTheWhosTommy.