SXSW Film Review – Colossal
*This review is somewhat spoilery as it discusses plot points not seen in any of the promotional material for the film so far.*
Colossal is debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival late last year, and has been growing in buzz ever since. It became a must-see for myself, and I was able to see it at SXSW.
Both written and directed by Nacho Vigalondo (Timecrimes), Colossal follows the story of Gloria (Anne Hathaway), an unemployed alcoholic who outstays her welcome with boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens). Kicked out of Tim’s place, she relocates back to the empty house of her childhood and attempts to start over. She meets her childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis) randomly one day and they strike up a friendship. Along with this, comes a job at Oscar’s bar and bonus friends, Joel (Austin Stowell) and Garth (Tim Blake Nelson). Weird stuff starts to happen while Gloria is drunk, mainly a gigantic monster stalks Seoul, South Korea. Recognizing the interesting mannerisms of said monster, Gloria puts two and two together and figures out she is controlling the monster.
If you have seen the trailer for Colossal, you might assume that Gloria controlling this monster that is wreaking havoc in Seoul is about all there is to the plot. Wrong. The trailers released so far do the film and the audience justice in the fact that it does not give away the twists and turns that develop after this realization. You go into this film somewhat blind, so when the plot develops further from the monster-control aspect, it becomes interesting and unlike any monster film ever seen.
In her soberness, Gloria is able to figure out that it is in a certain playground that the monster is able to appear in Seoul. Mapping out Seoul in this playground, she is able to restrict her movement to no longer hurt many people, even communicating messages to the people. Everything gets complicated when Gloria falls one day in the playground and Oscar comes to her rescue. It turns out that Oscar is also able to appear in Seoul as monster, but in the form of a robot.
From this revelation, the inner psyche of both Gloria and Oscar is revealed. Gloria is trying to prevent harm to others with this monster, while Oscar is reveling in this new-found power. Oscar is using it against Gloria, trying to keep her from leaving and doing things that he does not want. It is a really screwed up form of emotional abuse and mind control. With all of this, Oscar is revealed for who he really is to his so-called friends. Essentially, the character (both literally and figuratively) of Oscar changes, even though hints of it were already there. It just takes Gloria pushing him over the edge and him realizing he is suddenly powerful in unimaginable ways. He is basically a jerk face with special powers.
While this may be a smaller film in scope, the CGI monsters are still up to par with other films. That weird, lizard-like monster can evoke both terror in the people of Seoul and the laughs of the film’s audience when it tries to dance or raises its hand, mimicking Gloria. The robot monster is just icing on the cake. A lot of the action that is taking place in Seoul is viewed through a television or cell phone screen, and the confrontations on the playground are filmed so that we assume the monsters are doing the same, although we are not seeing it on the screen. Some may be disappointed by this, but again, the monsters are only the mechanism to get deeper into the complexities of Oscar and Gloria.
Colossal is not just a funny monster film, even though that is what is being sold to the audience. It is more an examination of good versus evil. Certainly, Gloria is not all good and Oscar is not all bad, but the generalizations are there with the two monsters pitted against each other. Nacho Vigalondo has used monster movie hype, taken advantage of current technology, flipped the age-old story of good versus evil, and come out with an unexpected and curious film that does not bend to your generalizations of what the story may be about. Go for the comedy and ingenious idea and enjoy the reveal of it being so much more than your average monster flick.