Director: Nacho Vigalondo
Cast: Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis, Dan Stevens
Watch Colossal online in the UK: Amazon Prime Video / iTunes / Amazon Instant Video / TalkTalk TV / Rakuten TV / Google Play
“What did I do? How many people did I kill?” That’s the cry of Gloria (Anne Hathaway), as she wakes up the morning after one of many nights before. An unemployed writer with a serious drinking problem, her alcohol habits have presumably cost her a job, certainly affected her health and are in the process of costing her a relationship with her boyfriend, Tim (Dan Stevens). When he kicks her out of their New York apartment and she has to go back to her small-town home, it feels like the world around her has crumbled to ruins. So when she sits in a bar and sees a gigantic monster attacking Seoul on the TV news, she can’t help but identify with the hulking terror crushing everything around it without concern or remorse.
If you paused to re-read that last sentence, you didn’t imagine it: yes, this is a film that combines a drama about alcoholism with a monster movie. Rachel Getting Married… to Godzilla. It’s an idea that might sound improbable or impossible to go with, but writer-director Nacho Vigalondo finds a surprisingly nuanced metaphor in the destructive power of addiction and the stomping, life-ruining indifference of a kaiju. As high concepts go, it’s big – and it’s clever.
A monster movie where the biggest monster on the skyline is the bottle, Colossal has fun with its genre elements, but succeeds because it devotes its time to Gloria’s low-key drama. Anne Hathaway is excellent, selling the role like she’s been building up to it for years, drifting between angry, sad, scared, lost and darkly funny, often all at the same time.
As her disapproving ex, Dan Stevens has little to do other than be vaguely self-righteous, but the real foil to Hathaway emerges as Jason Sudeikis, who plays Oscar, the owner of the aforementioned bar. Old friends from when they were growing up, he manages to be creepy, kind and controlling in equal measure – when he offers her a job working in the pub, you can’t work out whether it’s to help her, to own her or to insert himself into her routine.
Sudeikis delivers a career-best performance, bringing out both sides of Oscar’s manchild personality: the gentle, supportive man and the petulant, jealous boy. After a string of comedic roles that have played upon his smarmy, smug persona, this is a rare chance for him to play serious, cutting a broken, immature figure alongside Hathaway’s similarly self-hating lead. Separate, they’re unpredictable, but together, they’re out of control – and all that destruction witnessed on the South Korean skyline comes vividly to life, as blows are traded in the local playground with just as much weight and trauma.
By the time the young, good-looking bar-hand Joel (Austin Stowell) comes between them, things get really messy – and Vigalondo captures the chaos and cruelty with as much raw sincerity as he does the fantastical foot-stomping, making the far-fetched parallels of both easy to believe. And still, Vigalondo manages to keep every possible avenue open until surprisingly late in the story; we never really know whether we’re watching a drama heading for a tragic finish or a sci-fi comedy destined for a happy ending. A high-concept movie that pulls off its bizarre premise is an impressive success. A high-concept movie that does that and also manages to be a layered study of serious issues that keeps you guessing until the climax is a triumph.
Colossal is a film that really shouldn’t work, repeatedly risking belittling the theme of substance abuse and turning it into a quirky plot device, but it doesn’t drop the ball once, treating the collateral damage of addiction with the monstrous horror that it deserves – and roaring with success at a heroine who can stand up to the towering menace in her life with resilience, courage and heart. And you thought a King Kong film that referenced Oldboy and Vietnam was the weirdest creature feature of 2017.
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