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Certainly one of the films with the most bizarre synopsis at TIFF this year, Colossal, written and directed by Nacho Vigalondo, is also one of the most surprising delights. A film which manages to blend monster movie madness with indie darling character exploration and its biggest leg up, quick witted humor, never loses sight of its narrative. Colossal succeeds because it manages to toss back this genre cocktail with ease, creating a picture that both feels familiar in essence but provides its audience with a film that is fresh.
Gloria (Anne Hathaway) is drunk more often than she’s sober and her boyfriend (Dan Stevens) is fed up with it, unceremoniously giving her the boot from their New York apartment. Forced to move home into her parents house with no job and no prospects, she befriends Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), a familiar face from her childhood. Before long things take a turn to the supernatural as Seoul is attacked by a Godzilla-like creature and, much to her horror, Gloria realizes that somehow the monster is her. The semantics get tricky, as she has to be in the same place at the same time each morning for the connection to happen, but Gloria soon realizes just how truly destructive she can be, even when she believes she’s simply having fun. Then, as her version of having a good time wreaks potential havoc on a city of innocents, she realizes that the greatest evil might be closer to her, and that envy and entitlement can breed as terrible a beast as being a selfish drunk.
There are perhaps moments where the story strays too close to being too on-the-nose about the battle of inner demons and how they build themselves into the external monsters we face, but the script treads that line with enough delicacy to leave us with an outcome that is moving and euphoric, rather than sour with schmaltz. Much of this is due to Hathaway’s depiction of Gloria, which is a friendly reminder of why we all loved her so much pre-Les Miserables. She manages to play relatable while demonstrating her capacity to express inner turmoil with her eyes alone. She’s a superb mask wearer. We both like and distrust Gloria as our protagonist, whose self-destructive behavior ends up affecting hundreds. However, she’s flawed in a human way where she sees a beer and knows she shouldn’t drink it but is tempted anyway, who shuts down when she’s told how she should behave by an ex, and further shuts him down when he tells her he deserves an explanation. She is from start to finish her own individual with agency, and with a personal journey that is an absurdly, extraordinary moving experience by the film’s conclusion.
One of the greatest revelations of the film is the turn of one of its leading players, with Jason Sudeikis further proving that he’s a much more engaging presence as a dramatic performer than a comic one. While he doesn’t play to the heights Hathaway reaches, he’s more than capable of imbuing his character with a sense of bitter desperation as he’s watched with envy as Gloria over the years managed to escape their small town and make something of herself. Of course, little does he know that her life has been as wrought with personal demons as his, but he’s too self-absorbed to think beyond himself. The film gains a lot of mileage out of the idea that Gloria and Oscar are such poor representations of the people who typically fill the hero and villain roles, with both washed up and lonely, sad and drunk and spiraling out of control.
Director Nacho Vigalondo has an intelligent eye throughout the film as he makes sure to catch dual perspectives of the horrors taking place in Seoul, either through the video on someone’s phone going live just as Gloria moves a hand, or the use of sound to showcase the fear the citizens are feeling without ever need to trespass into the disaster porn arena. There are moments where the script leans so hard on obvious visual cues that the Jaws theme might as well have been played to introduce the latest threat, but almost immediately after a joke will land in just the right way to diffuse any real complaints.
For all of the monster movies film-goers have seen over the 100 years of cinema, the ones that tend to hit the hardest are those that recognize and exploit the inner demons within ourselves which come alive incarnate. Godzilla wasn’t a fearsome creature simply by design, but because we were told his existence was all due to the fact that humans were negligent and violent. Colossal might not be marked for the history books, but it takes that idea of humans being the gigantic, city towering monster, and their foolishness, selfishness and sometimes drunken behavior making them to blame for the destruction the “monster” causes.