If you’ve ever seen a Kaiju movie before then you know the score of how these things generally go down. An excessively large monster invades a city (traditionally a Japanese one) with scientists and the military struggling to work out how to stop/kill it before ultimately prevailing somehow. Colossal decides to turn these archetypes on their head somewhat and what starts as a potential formulaic story about a creature destroying another city for seemingly no reason, becomes something much more and in the end we get possibly the most genre defying film this year.
It is best to begin by saying that Colossal is not really a monster movie, despite the promotion for the film heavily portraying it as such. What the plot is actually about is something with a lot more depth and heart, with it being far more of a personal drama that features Kaiju in certain sections. The story begins with Gloria, an alcoholic who is dumped by her partner she has been living off of for quite a period of time. These events force her to move back to her home town after losing the support she has clung to for so long, without any making any real attempts to change for the better.
As she begins to make small headway in her journey back from addiction, she witnesses an attack on Seoul by the aforementioned Kaiju on the news and becomes deeply affected by it all. After a few more reappearances by the beast, she slowly discovers she is in fact controlling it, despite not really being aware of it or how she is able to do this. The insanity of the situation is not lost on Gloria as we watch her try to come to terms with what she is capable of whilst trying to repair herself in the process.
Colossal takes quite a turn later on, and without spoiling anything, essentially switches up genres entirely in a manner similar to that of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. This makes the film even more interesting than just the initial premise and gives it a unique feel that helps it stand out and pull you in further to this woman’s story. Anne Hathaway portrays Gloria here and gives a very good performance, really helping you root for a person who the audience really should not do after her introduction and exploits.
Moments of comedy are equally balanced with moments of pathos and earnestness which keep this tale somewhat believable throughout. Jason Sudeikis gives an equally enjoyable performance here as Oscar, Gloria’s long-lost childhood friend and has a lot more to do here than he has in quite a number of his films over the last few years. He gets chances to really represent a three-dimensional man as opposed to just a side character that has no real stand out traits.
The creature work is enjoyable with it never becoming overused, keeping our exposure to the monster limited and making it impactful each time we witness the creature, so it does not detract from the enjoyment. In fact the film makes a particularly clever way to demonstrate the effect of the creature without ever showing a single frame of it in one extremely well done scene later in the story, using the cast to portray the devastation and effect in a creative manner which resonates quite strongly. The picture revels in its indie environment and uses the characters and environment to demonstrate the situation as opposed to just bombarding the audience with CGI which dulls the crowd’s reaction each time they see it. This is a real ‘less is more’ effort and makes the film all the better for it.
Colour is a very important element of the storytelling with the contrast showing the differences in the two worlds but never make it too stark a difference, with certain aspects of this clearly linking the two besides just the Kaiju. The camera too works hard to create a sense of scale in specific areas but is not as well used for this as other modern examples such as the recent Kong: Skull Island.
However the winning aspect of the camera work has to be in the more subdued and intimate sections of the story, with it acting as a window into the thoughts and feelings of Gloria, giving a further connection to her character. All together these layers merge together brilliantly furthering the attachment for the audience and cultivates a captivating and interesting story that subverts expectations that are typically attached to monster movies in general.
Nacho Vigalondo has crafted an excellent drama which manages to avoid becoming too much of one genre or the other, balancing the two well and instead manages to weave these two elements together in a way that never feels forced or patronising. We are guided along the journey and asked to take their hand and trust them and in the example of this film, I’d recommend you don’t hold back and enjoy what happens next.
Colossal is released in UK cinemas on May 19th