Nacho Vigalondo’s subtext-excavating Colossal begins in darkness. Dramatic monster movie music overwhelms the score before the film opens with a sudden close-up of a doll.
This quick shift from the gargantuan to the miniature is a self-conscious, even obvious piece of bathos, but it perfectly captures the film’s chief interest in clashing the large scale and small. That the true monsters are inside ourselves has become the defining cliché of monster movies. Colossal grabs this trite truism, applies it to small town America and follows it to absurd, very enjoyable conclusions.
After being dumped by her boyfriend for excessive partying, Gloria (Anne Hathaway) returns to her hometown to spend some time working it all out: her relationships, her life and her alcoholism.
On her first day back she runs into her friend from school, Oscar (Jason Sudeikis). He’s an archetypal “nice guy” who immediately offers Gloria a job at his bar, and buys her some furniture for the sparse house she’s holed up in. He’s also harbouring some quick-to-resurface resentments about having never escaped the town.
One afternoon, Gloria discovers that whenever she walks through a specific playground at a specific time of day, she triggers the appearance of a giant monster in Seoul. She unwittingly causes mass destruction the first time she drunkenly stumbles through the playground, and she spends the rest of the film trying to manage her bizarre new superpower.
Hathaway is compelling as a woman dealing with a lot of things at once. Gloria is a perpetual screw-up, but she knows that she is and she’s trying her best. Unfortunately for her, those stakes have become absurdly unfathomable – screwing up now suddenly has the very real consequence of causing the deaths of masses of people. Hathaway somehow manages to convey all of this while clearly enjoying herself.
To call this a monster movie/indie dramedy genre mash-up is to unfairly simplify what Vigalondo is doing. He collides both genres together in such a way that the monster movie has an easily traceable impact on the indie dramedy.
The most obvious, and successful, example of this can be found in the figure of Jason Sudeikis’ Oscar. Sudeikis’ stock in trade is the affable funny guy — pleasant enough, funny enough — doing his thing in the corner as the rest of the ensemble cast hogs the limelight.
Here, though, Vigalondo uses the stakes and broad brush portraiture enabled by the monster movie elements of the film to mine a very dark undercurrent out of him. As Gloria correctly summarises: “You hate yourself.”
Crucially, he doesn’t express this hatred in the ostensibly nuanced, ostensibly realistic way that we’d expect him to in an indie romantic dramedy. To say anything more would be to spoil the fun that comes from realising as you’re watching Colossal just what the film is doing.
Vigalondo captures the film’s events in an unobtrusive, gently handheld style. In bringing the iconography and genre expectations of monster movies down to bear on small town American life, he has created an original take on much-mined material.
► 3½ stars