This review will be a little different. Colossal rendered me stumped. Unsure of how to write up my thoughts, I’ve even considered playing the “too hard to come to a conclusive rating” card.
As a rule, I don’t like to read other reviews before completing my own. As a way to not influence my thoughts. I’m impressionable, what can I say? I’ve avoided reading any substantial opinions. However, I’ve glanced upon one sheets and posters, and they’ve made me scratch my head in confusion. Did I watch a different movie? Or did I deconstruct Nacho Vigalondo’s film in completely the wrong way?
The marketing presents Colossal as a fun and clever take on the classic monster/Godzilla genre. It alludes to a deeper story or unique addition to the usual tropes. But leaving the cinema I couldn’t have been more perplexed. Rather than walking out recognising that I was, only moments ago, privy to a witty and thoughtful western take on the Tokusatsu Kaiju series of Japanese films and shows, I was instead feeling that the film I’d just watched should have gone very differently.
The film stars Anne Hathaway (Gloria, an alcoholic blogger, living in New York with no plan set in place for her life and nothing to fall back on), and Jason Sudeikis (Gloria’s childhood best friend, Oscar, who stayed in their small hometown to run his late father’s bar). I’m a fan of Hathaway. She has a very naturalistic way of acting, often displaying some all-too-relatable awkwardness. She’s a joy to watch on screen. Sudeikis is also great as Oscar. At first he appears gentle and kind, but later on slips into his real persona and becomes a considerable threat.
Colossal follows Gloria’s turbulent life as she is kicked out of her boyfriend’s Manhattan apartment, and moves back to her parent’s old, empty house in a small, middle American town. Seemingly by pure coincidence, she runs into her old friend Oscar, who enthusiastically offers his help. Oscar escorts her back to his bar: a few pints and a long catch up later, Gloria wakes up to the news that Seoul had fallen victim to a giant monster attack. Understandably in a state of utter shock, she is caught off guard when Oscar arrives on her doorstep with a massive TV in tow. He explains that they had spoken about him gifting her the monstrosity, but in her hungover state she must have completely forgotten their discussion. The residents of the town watch the horror unfold via the news, with the monster appearing at random but always at 8:05 AM, and always in the South Korean capital.
The story carries on as it started: Gloria, now working at the bar, ends up drunk every night and wakes in a state of complete ignorance to the preceding night’s events. Oscar continues turning up, bearing gifts to decorate her house. Every time he concocts the story that they had talked about it, but every time she is surprised. The attacks on Seoul also continue and Gloria becomes obsessed with the phenomenon. She soon comes to the conclusion that she is in fact the monster. In her drunken stupor, she unwittingly wreaks havoc on the Korean capital (the town’s communal playground acts as a sort of portal, remotely mapping out the geographical area of the Asian city).
Gloria is riddled with guilt after connecting the monster to her drunken lifestyle. She takes Oscar to the playground and provides definitive proof that she is causing the disaster. But with Oscar stepping into the portal, another giant monster appears over Seoul. The revelation being that, as youngsters, the two friends found themselves in the middle of the phenomena that gave birth to the portal and fantastical Kaiju. At 8:05 AM, on a random day in their childhood, whatever caused the event fed off the hate felt by the two children. Gloria was betrayed by Oscar who destroyed her diorama of Seoul, and Oscar has a deep hatred for his own life. And indeed, it is my opinion that Oscar is one of the most hateful characters portrayed on film.
Arguably the most pivotal moment in the film is Oscar finding out that Gloria and fellow friend Joel engage in a night of copulation. Oscar changes dramatically and becomes a drunken, abusive, spiteful person. But ultimately, this is where the film loses me.
Colossal is a confusing, muddled film. It addresses some tricky and heavy themes, of which the most prominent seems to be domestic abuse, and the still prevalent issue of possessive and manipulative attitudes of men, towards women. What is delivered on screen, on the other hand, does not identify with the subject matter. None of the critical scenes contain any gravitas or perhaps to me they come off as inconsequential. A notable example is when the two leads have their first hostile encounter. A drunken Oscar threatens to step into the portal and terrorise Seoul. A tussle ensues but the scene plays out more like a comedy, lending no weight to the dramatic change in their relationship. This is a frequent issue throughout the film, where every time a serious scenario was being played out, the film instead remains darkly comedic. When it came to a certain scene involving Oscar assaulting Gloria it was all too late. I had lost interest. Nothing felt substantial. All the events leading up to this moment were easily forgotten. The narrative carried on but key moments seemed wasted due to poor direction and writing. I had no reason to believe this particular scene would result in anything different.
Blackmail (Oscar threatening to destroy Seoul every morning that Gloria isn’t by his side) and abuse dominate the rest of the film. Gloria never truly seems a victim though, appearing only frustrated at her situation. It becomes clear that the furnishings Oscar gifted had not come about via mutual agreements. Instead, he exhibits behaviour very typical of an abuser. He attempts to make Gloria feel indebted to and reliant on him, asserting himself as the superior figure and removing her agency. There’s even an instance where he feigns an apology, promising that he’s changed and his recent drunken outbursts were moments of weakness. Oscar is a hateful, jealous, and petulant person. He will stop at nothing, not even the direct slaughter of hundreds of people, to defend his dominance over those around him. This moral dispute as the reason for the deaths of the citizens of Seoul, was never properly expanded on, by the way. Gloria struggles with her role as the monster, at one point considering turning herself in, but once Oscar’s monster is introduced into the narrative the focus is shifted to the relationship between the two characters.
To its credit, the film moves at a steady pace and never felt slow. The acting was excellent. I enjoyed every moment of conversation between the characters and was suitably convinced by the performances. Disregarding the alcoholism, I related to Gloria, and I was made to feel uncomfortable by Oscar’s personality and actions. And while I found nothing notable to say regarding the cinematography, there was nothing especially bad about it. The writing, however, was convoluted and unclear enough to break the suspension of disbelief. The story is weak, with plot holes littering the film. The serious nature of the themes raised were not supported by the flaky writing and directing choices. In the closing moments of Colossal where Gloria receives her comeuppance, the film descends into clichéd flourishes, becoming melodramatic and lazy. The film ends in an admittedly funny but confusing conversation between Gloria and a Korean bartender, reflecting that overall.
Colossal is a confusing film. It is certainly one that I struggled to review. There are elements to praise, the acting for one, with Hathaway always a pleasure to watch. But the encapsulating story and narrative were too weak to truly create an enjoyable film to appreciate. Should you go and watch it? Regretfully I have to say: I don’t know.
Colossal is an ambitious film but struggles to find its footing. It unsuccessfully attempts to blend two incompatible genres, detrimentally affecting the narrative as a result. And unfortunately, Anne Hathaway and otherwise solid performances from the cast can’t save the weak writing.