In Colossal, Anne Hathaway plays an alcoholic underachiever who is forced to move back to her rural hometown. There, she realizes if she stands in a certain place at a certain time, a massive kaiju that mimics her movements spawns in the city of Seoul, South Korea. Yes, you read that right.
Every day at 8:05am, if Gloria (Hathaway) goes onto a local playground, a huge grasshopper-looking monster appears on the other side of the world. If she walks straight, it walks straight. If she dances, it dances. But while the playground is deserted, the city is not, and massive destruction takes place as a result of her actions.
This absolutely insane concept could only come from the mind of Nacho Vigalondo. The director of Timecrimes, Extraterrestrial, and Open Windows also wrote the film, and through this crazy idea of a real life kaiju avatar, he explores a laundry list of complex ideas like responsibility, addiction, abuse, and more.
Alongside Hathaway is Oscar, played by Jason Sudeikis. Oscar’s an old friend who now owns a local bar. Every night he, Gloria, and two other friends (including one played by Tim Blake Nelson) get wasted, hang out, and bullshit. Sometimes, they turn on the news, all of which is about this skyscraper-sized monster that has begun mysteriously appearing in Seoul. It’s kind of changing the way people look at the world around them. But Oscar and Gloria don’t really care. They think it’s odd and funny, at least at the start.
With all of this going on, there’s never a moment where you’re bored watching Colossal. Vigalondo’s story is so out there and densely packed, it’s a complete mystery where it could be going. The problem is, it almost feels like the story doesn’t know where it’s going either. Colossal starts by hinting it’s going to be about Gloria’s alcoholism. That then becomes almost a non-issue. Then it starts to become about lost love and jealousy... but not really. It even hints about the larger global impact of these events, but that falls by the wayside too.
By the end of the film, the themes and tones have pivoted so rapidly, so many times, the possible interpretations for Gloria’s abilities and actions are innumerable. There is even a not-so-subtle reading that could be made about the anonymity of the internet and how people hide behind fake identities to do awful things to others. Yes, Colossal could be a movie about Gamergate if you chose to view it that way—that’s how far it goes.
Despite these generally wavy intentions, Colossal constantly provides laughs, pathos, action, and even some deeply disturbing moments along the way. And while a breathtaking climax finally solidifies a singular theme, you can’t help but feel Vigalondo struggled with reaching that point and making the whole film feel cohesive, because it doesn’t feel cohesive until the very end. Still, it’s so wildly original and audacious, it’s kind of unforgettable.
Colossal is a film that half works and half doesn’t. Even when it’s not working, it makes you think and shake your head in disbelief that a movie this crazy exists. It’s almost a flawed work of genius, one that will probably age quite well with multiple viewings and lots of healthy discussion about its intentions. It’s got issues, but we never see movies that swing for the fences like this anymore, and we need to.
Colossal closed out the 2016 Fantastic Fest film festival. An unnamed Chinese company will release it in the U.S. in 2017.