I love a great metaphor movie. Why? Because in many films, you get what you see. The characters navigate the plot to its end, either driving it or in most cases being driven by it with a little symbolism here, perhaps some allegory, etc. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, many of my favorite films rest on this plane. However, some movies function on a different level and though they might be odd or strange and leave much to the imagination, the central message of the movie shines through in a unique and often powerful way. Colossal is one such film.
The story of Colossal follows Gloria, a 30-something alcoholic nonstarter whose boyfriend dumps her after her latest night of hard partying. Kicked out of his apartment, she decides to move back to her (currently vacant) childhood home in upstate New York and figure out what to do with her life. There she runs into an old acquaintance from elementary school named Oscar. They reconnect and she begins to work at his bar (not the best idea) while she attempts to piece her life back together and decide what she’s going to do and if she really can change.
Then a giant monster attacks Seoul, South Korea. Worse yet, Gloria discovers that she is the monster and that every morning at 8 a.m. it materializes over a city full of people and tracks her movements, to devastating effect.
Now, one would think the rest of the film would be about Gloria and Oscar teaming together to figure out how to stop the monster. Colossal is not that film and its only ticking clock exists in the form of its characters, who, refreshingly, drive the entirety of the film’s conflict. Instead, it is a film about toxic people, neediness, and the vices which hold people back and stop them from becoming who they want to be.
The reason this film is successful is because of director/writer Nacho Vigalondo’s brilliant writing. The two central characters grow and change in drastic ways that are still believable given the grounded nature of their lives (save for all that monster business) and the problems that both of them have. Their addictions and general disappointment in where they are at make for meaty thematic material, giving even the smallest scenes added weight and depth.
The material is further elevated by Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis as Gloria and Oscar, respectively. Hathaway, as always, is excellent. Her Gloria is a complete mess; impulsive, self-destructive, and often selfish, Gloria nonetheless remains a relatable character because Hathaway lets you know, in many small ways, just how badly she wants to change and become better. Sudeikis offers perhaps the best performance of his career. Oscar is a character with hidden depths; he starts the film as an amiable everyman willing to lend Gloria a hand, a job, and even friendship, but as their time together lengthens, and more alcohol is drunk, emotions are laid bare and motivations are revealed. Oscar’s true self begins to peek through the cracks. How Hathaway and Sudeikis navigate their characters intersecting journeys is impressive and surprising, leading to a conclusion that is both cathartic and deeply satisfying.
Beyond the great writing, Vigalondo’s direction is assured and deftly folds slivers of high-budget kaiju action with a moving, message-driven indie-dramedy that will most likely surprise you at every turn. The cinematography is pleasing, contrasting the light and color of Seoul with the relative dreariness of Gloria’s hometown. The effects are incredible, given the rather modest budget of the film, and I appreciated the amount of restraint and suggestion used to convey the enormity and movement of the creature. On top of this, Bear McCreary’s soundtrack is an awesome mixture of well-selected oldies and original music that manages to capture the titanic quality of the kaiju material as well as the intimate, moving moments in Gloria’s journey.
Overall, I loved this film and if you have even the slightest interest in seeing it, I suggest you take the opportunity to do so. It will surprise you. I truly wish there were more films like this, that ask you to take the plunge and just go with it, because if you do, you may not necessarily have a good time, but you’ll have seen something wholly unique and oddly, wonderfully strange. Who knows? You might even learn something.