Director: Nacho Vigalondo
Screenplay: Nacho Vigalondo
Starring: Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis, Dan Stevens, Austin Stowell, Tim Blake Nelson
Runtime: 110 Minutes
2017 has been a good year for cinema in taking innovative and chancy takes on generic foundational material. In the case of Nacho Vigalondo’s Colossal, writer/director Vigalondo finds a bizarre way of blending the worlds of Indiewood drama and large-scale Kaiju action cinema into a single cohesive whole. What might initially appear to be a pitch worthy gimmick turns out to be a remarkably clever and original conceit for exploring its character work and drama through a more familiar framework.
Through the means of magical realism, Colossal depicts the destruction of the city of Seoul by behemoth a miraculous and devastating Kaiju presence as an exaggerated manifestation of a far more basic piece of human drama and conflict. The creature will only appear in a specific location at a certain time, that just so happens to coincide with Anne Hathaway’s Gloria drunkenly stumbling home after a night of drinking.
The metaphor here is an unsubtle but incredibly fascinating one; that the self-destructive tendencies of alcoholism cause just as much damage to the lives of those around the affected individuals, even if they have no idea of the consequences of their actions. But the genius lies in how well the film balances both elements of its Kaufmanesque premise.
The tone of the film is constantly shifting and sees the initial quirkily offbeat concept as something of a joke taken to extremes, before bringing the drama home in a far more insidious manner, which explores the cycles of emotional abuse and martyrdom which can be inherent to the effects of alcoholism or any kind of substance abuse. The type of self-loathing that gives way to projection and damages the states of mind of everyone around them. Gloria has returned home to wallow in self-pity, finds familiar comfort and decides to continue down her path of petulant self-serving until something bigger finally shows her what she has been doing all along.
Without venturing into the area of spoilers regarding the final outcomes of the films narrative conclusions, its exploration of these ideas come to a conclusion that for the sake of narrative and visual shorthand boils down to the kind of favoured fantasy dream of a child, that takes on a far more substantial resonance and weight as the real horrors of such a fantastical scenario become more shockingly apparent.
Anne Hathaway is incredible as the functioning alcoholic at the story's centre, channelling so much of Gloria’s internal grief while maintaining a brilliant sense of physical and emotional comedy to compliment the films good time attitudes and visual spectrum. Jason Sudeikis is something of a revelation, able to transform at will between the good-natured comedy performer he is known for and a more insidious and corruptive influence over Gloria’s lifestyle than might be immediately apparent. There’s also the support of brilliant bit players in Tim Blake Nelson and Austin Stowell who carry their scenes with alternative gravity and levity, and Dan Stevens making the most out of his allotted role as the frustrated former boyfriend.
Nacho Vigalondo’s direction is undeniably confident in presentation, with a heavy reliance on audible cues and sound effects to emphasise the inherent silliness of its daylight park skirmishes in contrast to the horrors unfolding on the other side of the world. There’s a real contemporary sense of awe and commentary to its spectacle but the drama is where its head and heart lies, with its metaphorical leniencies documenting the mythological confrontation of its decidedly small-scale performances. The sound design, in particular, is wonderful at bringing a real wonder to proceedings, as is the occasional emergence of Bear McCreary’s emotionally energising score.
All this being said, the film might not work for everyone. The explanation for why these events are happening is a little haphazard, but really its only function is to facilitate the fantasy elements at play and little more. Its absurdum and lack of practical clarification will alienate people who would rather see every element of this highly metaphorical journey rationalized, when indeed the point is to draw attention to the parable that it is drawing off the often boiled down narratives of human stories and dimensions.
Colossal is a remarkably odd picture, but the execution of its premise is staggeringly well handled and the balancing act of its tonal fluctuations are admirable with forceful intent. Its levels of intimacy inform the onscreen carnage, but never lose track of the emotions and motivations of its trapped and lonely characters at the centre of it all. That something this original, audacious and responsive can still emerge from the Hollywood system is a miracle unto itself, and Colossal hits harder because of it.