'A GIANT MONSTER just materialised over SEOUL': It's ridiculous, it's far-fetched, It's Godzilla with Hathaway and Sudeikis in the driving seat - but it's also SO much more.
Having seen it, I can confirm: Colossal is a film starring Anne Hathaway, and also a Kaiju monster. It’s also a film that tackles the nitty-gritty of alcoholism, abusive relationships, and the destruction of an entire city, without going into apparent depth about any of them. In fact, the carnage of Seoul is widely overlooked as Hathaway’s Gloria unwittingly embarks on her slaughterous pathway via the body of a Cloverfield-esque colossus on the other side of the world, an inadvertent death toll rising at her own hands. Yet, bizarre-o as it sounds, Colossal fits the pieces of its tonally discordant puzzle together in a near perfect attempt from director Nacho Vigalondo. ‘It’s allegorical!’ we hear the distant cries of Vigalondo, pleading to the rising throng of misanthropes the film is quickly amassing, but I’m tempted to agree with him. Even with the light touch it applies to its subject, and the divide it has created at the hands of an altogether misleading trailer, perhaps the right way to tackle abuse and alcoholism is at the hands of the abstract. Or the Kaiju monster, apparently, either one.
Gloria is an unhappy, unemployed, self-absorbed New Yorker just dumped by her exasperated boyfriend (Dan Stevens), fed up with only seeing her when she’s hungover. Lacking other options, she heads back to her cushy hometown to live in her parent’s empty house on a broken air mattress, bumping into childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis) who has stayed put and taken over his late father’s bar. But just as soon as she’s back on her feet, taken a job at Oscar’s bar, introduced to Oscar’s buddies, and offered expensive-looking furniture at the hands of Oscar himself, the news is flooded with the alarming roar of Seoul’s Godzilla. But as much as the trailer would have you believe Colossal is a playful magical-realist comedy about a woman who finds she’s somehow controlling a giant monster on the other side of the globe (which it is for about 10 minutes), it’s more a dark, choking look at the bleaker side of relationships and blackmail (which it is for about half an hour – the rest lies somewhere in between the two). There’ll be little consolation for those seeking anything resembling solace in the romantic-comedy aspect of the film’s genre-hybridizing means; Colossal reeks far more of Gone Girl than Annie Hall, more Tyrannosaur than 500 Days of Summer.
And for that, it must be applauded, for the feat of including abuse, addiction, and toxic relationships in modern cinema are incredibly difficult, the most recent example of its failings being The Girl on the Train. It’s a shame Colossal won’t receive as much media-driven attention as the Emily Blunt carried vehicle, but its bleak outlook that refuses to allow its entertainment value derive solely from vodka soaked plot twists, or gaslighting to become the *big reveal*, makes for a creative and, significantly, truthful portrayal of abuse that relies predominantly on the blackmail and scare tactics of the perpetrator.
A comparison to J. A. Bayona’s A Monster Calls comes to mind here. The Patrick Ness written venture follows a similar almighty beast, a metaphorical amalgamation of the young Conor O’Malley’s grief and guilt of his mother’s impending death in what our review remarked as a ‘scorchingly powerful’ portrayal of hardship. The metaphorical realisation of guilt, grief and depression as having monstrous tendencies is not a new one, by any means. Before A Monster Calls, it was The Babadook, and before The Babadook, it was Tyrannosaur and The Skeleton Twins whose titles suggest achingly symbolic depths to their content. Yet, they are all undoubtedly the most effective of the bunch.
Perhaps we should consider the success of these allegorical realisations. Perhaps The Girl on the Train, or Nocturnal Animals, or any of the other various cinematic failings of abuse, addiction and mental instability, were too literal to have any chance at integrity. Colossal has a stellar script, teeming with daring wit and bold tone changes that unravel almost perfectly, and a highly charged cast brandishing impeccable performances from Hathaway and Sudeikis (who plays thrillingly against type), but it’s its creativity, despite the occasional far-fetched flashback or eye-rolling explanation, that hangs around, joining the likes of A Monster Calls in what I’m tempted to see as an amassing backlash against those hardened silver screen misdemeanours.
Colossal, directed by Nacho Vigalondo, is released in the UK by Neon, Certificate 12A.