The poster for Colossal. All Images: Neon

The idea for Colossal sounds exactly that: “colossal.” A woman in the US can sometimes, when she’s drunk and in the right place, become a giant monster in Seoul, South Korea. Add to that Oscar-winning actress Anne Hathaway, and it sounds like a Hollywood blockbuster. But that’s not what Colossal is at all.

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“I wrote the script with business in mind,” writer-director Nacho Vigalondo told io9. “I wanted distance to be a big part of the movie. I like to work with limitations when I make my films. I think my mind work better with limitations. One day I’ll get 100 million dollars to make a space opera and I’m going to have 50 left over.”

Massive action scenes of monsters destroying cities are secondary to Colossal’s personal conflicts, mostly the ones between Gloria (Hathaway) and her old friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis). The movie takes a high-concept idea and brings it down to Earth—which is what Vigalondo has done his whole career. Since 2007, the director has been making strong feature films that somehow haven’t broken out. His first film, Timecrimes, is a cult favorite but didn’t have mainstream success. He then made Extraterrestrial and Open Windows, both of which have original premises and good reviews, but didn’t find an audience. Vigalondo doesn’t care. That’s not who he is. And any praise or problems that arise from Colossal, he takes full responsibility.

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“I have to say that the movie is 100 percent what I wanted to make,” he said. “So all the faults in the movies are mine, which is something I like. I like to see that kind of stuff when you go to the movies. I want to feel like the movies are a result of someone making it. Not just that it was made in high offices.”

The one wild card in that is Hathaway, a bonafide movie star, who joined the film when her agent read the script and simply recommended she do it, money be damned.

Colossal was playing like this kind of joke for some people in the [movie] universe,” Vigalondo said. But when Hathaway was attached, that changed. People took notice, and stars like Sudeikis, Dan Stevens, and Tim Blake Nelson joined the production.

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“When somebody like that wants to make your film, you’re blessed,” Vigalondo said. “The big stars are kind of divas and they want to crush you under their thumb like a cockroach. In order to make the film, there’s no time to deal with it, to pull your punches, to be gentle, to be smart, to be able to drive the movie to a place where the sun settles. I was ready to face these situations. And the thing is that Anne Hathaway couldn’t be more supportive, more clever, or more talented.”

It also doesn’t hurt that this giant monster movie also contains some very personal, very realistic issues: domestic abuse, alcoholism, failure, regret, and more. Colossal takes a fun genre concept but uses it for something much more real, and that was exactly the point.

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“The narrative device is coming from a love towards those kinds of films,” Vigalondo said. “The actors are coming from my life, from my circumstances, from stories that I heard, stories that had happened to people that grew up next to me. They’re stories involving me. It’s my most autobiographical film.”

Vigalondo doesn’t think Colossal has one single meaning. It can reflect many things to many different people depending on their experiences. However, he was very careful to not explain how and why this character becomes a giant monster. He admits it’s a question fans will have, and the movie does very tangentially tease an explanation, but that was not the story he wanted to tell.

“The only thing that is important for me is to tell you that this conflict between these two characters is something that has been there from the past,” he said. “It happens in real life. The kinds of troubles that this movie is focusing on are deep in our culture.”

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You know, minus the whole giant monster thing.

Colossal opens in limited release April 7.