The personal becomes ‘Colossal’ in genre-bending monster film

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Jason Sudeikis and Anne Hathaway star in 'Colossal,' a monster film with more going on than its marketing might suggest. Image credit: Neon

Jason Sudeikis and Anne Hathaway star in ‘Colossal,’ a monster film with more going on than its marketing might suggest. Image credit: Neon

Colossal, directed and written by Nacho Vigalondo (Extraterrestrial, Timecrimes), is the story of Gloria (Anne Hathaway), an unemployed writer who is kicked out of the New York apartment she shares with her boyfriend (Dan Stevens) when her struggles with alcoholism become too much to handle. Gloria returns to the town where she grew up to try and get a fresh start, and in the process reconnects with her childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis). She takes a part-time job working at Oscar’s bar, which poses its own problems, but it’s what she discovers following a series of late-night benders that sets the story in motion.

Gloria learns that a giant monster, which makes its first appearance crashing through Seoul on a newscast, appears to mirror the actions she makes on one side of the planet in its own behaviour on the other. Gloria raises her arm, the monster raises its arm. She dances, it dances. And so on. It doesn’t take long for Gloria to make the connection, and when she realizes her self-destructive behaviour is having devastating effects elsewhere on the planet, she resolves to kick her habit, lest more chaos befalls Seoul and its inhabitants. It’s a wicked hook, one that Vigalondo uses to both comedic and tragic effect. But while this storyline would be compelling enough for any kaiju film buff on its own, the film boasts some surprising twists and turns that make for a thrilling watch.

Monster films often employ the conceit of a giant creature spreading destruction in service of commenting on some great societal concern. The original Godzilla was a treatise on the fears of a nuclear age by a country devastated by the atomic bomb; the 2014 reboot positioned itself as the first post-human blockbuster; and even this year’s Kong: Skull Island uses its setting to attempt a critique of America’s war in Vietnam. Big monsters make even bigger statements, which makes Colossal all the more unique for how it tackles problems of a much more personal scale.

But while one could easily argue Colossal is a warning against giving in to our vices, whether it be alcohol or some other salve, that’s not the whole story. And it’s in the film’s revelation that there’s more to Gloria’s connection with her South Korean counterpart where I struggle with saying more than I really should.

So I’ll leave it at this: sometimes, monsters aren’t always the ones raining destruction on our cities. Sometimes, the real monsters are those we think we know best. That distinction is where the film becomes not just a huge success, but a colossal one.

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