By Matthew E. Milliken
April 15, 2017
Minutes after the start of Colossal, Nacho Vigalondo’s quirky, entertaining new comedy, the protagonist’s life has crashed to a halt. Party girl Gloria (Anne Hathaway) is thrown out of her tony New York apartment by her exasperated boyfriend, Tim (Dan Stevens), who says he can no longer put up with her joblessness and drinking. The chronically directionless 30something woman, now suddenly homeless, retreats to the unfurnished vacation house her absent parents own in the small town of Mainhead, where she grew up.
Little does she know that her ordeal is about to get even worse. On the plus side, she reconnects with a solicitous old school friend, bar owner Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), who offers her a job, jump-starts her interior decorating, and gives her a set of instant buddies in the form of his pals Garth (Tim Blake Nelson) and Joel (Austin Stowell). On the minus side, she soon realizes that her intoxicated early-morning forays through a local park are linked with the manifestation of an immense monster that has begun terrorizing Seoul.
In the hands of a lesser talent, this fantastic premise would only serve as a vehicle for cheap laughs or computer-generated action sequence. Fortunately, writer-director Vigalondo — a Spaniard helming what I believe to be only his second English-language feature, following the 2014 social-media horror movie Open Windows — has more on his mind than corny humor or empty-headed spectacle.
Unlike in, say, Godzilla or Pacific Rim, a monster menacing a city is a only means for Colossal, not an end in and of itself. Vigalondo is really interested in exploring how people react to bottoming out. The movie shows Gloria, Oscar and their friends struggling to adjust, in ways both comic and saddening, to their strange new reality. And while the feature arrives at a resolution of sorts — there is some ambiguity — it’s clear that the survivors have plenty of problems remaining.
I was a little uncomfortable with some of what I would broadly call colonialism on display in Colossal, and I think there are legitimate grounds for criticism; just a single South Korean has a speaking part, and there’s a bit of white-savior syndrome on display. But again, the movie is only secondarily about the strange forces that threaten Seoul. The true focus here is how Gloria reacts to feeling trapped and manipulated, both physically and emotionally. Not only is she boxed in by her own personal failings, she finds herself the victim of an often harsh, unfeeling world as well as toxic masculinity evinced by some of her new and renewed acquaintances.
I haven’t seen Vigalondo’s other films, and I think I’d dislike his English-language debut. But the writer-director’s first Spanish-language features, 2007’s Timecrimes (a.k.a. Los Cronocrímenes) and 2011’s Extraterrestrial (Extraterrestre), sound like inventive science-fiction movies, and I will likely seek them out. Moreover, I plan to keep an eye on forthcoming works by Vigalondo; I suspect he’s got a bright future ahead of him.