All words: Vesper Arnett
Colossal is a new kind of disaster movie in which the disaster emerges from within, rather than fears of nuclear disaster, and is very millennial. But at the same time, it’s tricky. What is Anne Hathaway doing in a monster movie? It turns out she’s responsible for the manifestation of the giant creature that stomps around Seoul, South Korea. The idea of her problems and unrestrained emotional outbursts become a physical being is interesting, but about halfway through, it takes a turn. The solution is satisfying, but the film is muddy in the way it handles key issues and questions raised.
After a sudden breakup with her boyfriend, Gloria (Hathaway) returns to her hometown and runs into childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudekis). They go to his bar, where Gloria is introduced to his two friends, Joel and Garth (Austin Stowell and Tim Blake Nelson). She fits in like a missing piece, and Oscar makes her a job offer. Gloria neglects to tell him that she has a drinking problem and accepts.
Gloria wanders home after a drunken night, traveling the same paths she did as a kid, and through a small playground. She wakes up in the afternoon to find to a flood of phone calls telling her about the giant monster that attacked South Korea earlier in the day. After a few more nights of stumbling home and monster attacks, she notices that the monster scratched its head the same way she was teased for doing the previous evening. In a flurry of panic-induced possible delusion, Gloria puts things together and tests her theory: she walks through the park at a certain time, and the monster manifests, copying her every move as though she were acting it out on a green screen. She delivers this news to her newfound friends and performs a demonstration as they watch a live-stream of Seoul. They keep this information to themselves.
The simplest solution to stopping this destruction is for Gloria to never walk through that park again, and yet, none of the characters voice this possibility. It’s too simple. And suddenly… there is another monster.
Director Nacho Vigalondo takes a nearly straightforward idea and twists it to tell a different story entirely, one that is not supernatural as much as it is all too common. Gloria is surrounded by people who seemingly want what is best for her: her boyfriend who kicked her out over her alcoholism; Oscar, who gives her a job and then furniture for her house; and Joel, who seems innocent enough to get to know better. These men, and Garth, who is closer to a mirror of her problems, want to guide her to their truths. They pull her in different directions, with some more pushy than others. This pushiness turns into abuse, and eventually, outright violence.
Vigalondo sneaks a story about abuse and the violence of men against women under the guise of a Godzilla-inspired monster film. It’s not always successful; the storytelling itself is flawed, but the acting is solid. Hathaway channels her role in Rachel Getting Married for this character, and reinforces that she is more than her biggest films. Still, I was left wondering where her female friends are. They seem to be either afterthoughts or a clue to her increasingly perilous circumstances. I can’t imagine this story playing out the same way if there were other women in the film.
Stylistically, the film sits somewhere between the indie-green color grading that is so popular, and a dark comedy. The tones of the film itself seem to be just as confused as the constant shifts in tone in the story. When things aren’t funny, or quirky, or weird, there is a dark cloud. After all, hundreds of people die every time Gloria steps through that playground at that specific time of day (nighttime in Seoul).
But here’s the other thing. The film is about a woman discovering her outer monster, right? The monster really attacks and kills hundreds, destroys buildings, and just becomes a general nuisance to the Koreans. There is no sense of scale to the destruction of Seoul other than what is told to her secondhand or via news reports. After several attacks, solidarity signs are posted in support of the Koreans, but there is also a worldwide fear that the monster is actually man-made. Why do we not hear directly from the Korean populace? One would think that a Korean character (or two) would have something to say, but the people who are most affected are reduced to being background characters to the troubles of the main cast, who are all white Americans. This becomes even more evident as we can see one Korean family literally in the background glued to their television, and a white male tells Gloria about their pain. Their grief should be centered here, too.
Is this supposed to be another aspect of the film: that Gloria is too self-absorbed to notice the world around her? At the same time, once Gloria sees what she is doing, she actively tries to stop being destructive, but can’t help but be drawn back, or forced to go back.
Gloria does care. She does notice, and is troubled by her self-destructiveness as much as she is by her monstrous counterpart. She does try to make her life a little bit better, bit by bit. But she is surrounded by people who make demands of her as she tries to lay low, and she must become her own hero.
This movie has certainly given me a lot to consider. In some ways, it’s a good way to send a message without monologues on how men are evil. Rather, it shows how the evil reveals itself: subtle at first, possessive, coercive, and then violent. At the same time, there are just some elements that feel like they’ve missed the mark.