IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 109 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Gloria is an unemployed writer struggling with alcoholism. Her errant behaviour prompts her frustrated boyfriend Tim to dump her and kick her out of their New York apartment. Forced to move back to her Middle American hometown, Gloria reunites with her childhood friend Oscar, who gives her a job in his bar, though she also joins Oscar and his friends Garth in their ritual of hanging out and drinking until morning. Around the same time, a giant monster appears in Seoul, leaving death and destruction in its wake. Gloria realises that whenever she walks through a particular playground at exactly 8:05 in the morning, she causes the monster to manifest….
I had a good feeling about Colossal ever since I first heard that Japan’s Toho Studios were suing the producers for using images of Godzilla whilst trying to sell the project to investors. A film from the writer/director of Timecrimes and Extraterrestrial about a woman going through a dark period in her life who has some kind of link to a giant beastie that attacks Seoul? Sounds like a nicely quirky and original take on the kaiju [Japanese monster subgenre] as well as a compelling human drama, a film positively made for this critic. Or so I thought. Unfortunately, the result is something of a misfire and as I type I’m still trying to work out what the point of it all was, what Nacho Vigalondo was trying to say, how it all ties together. Vigalondo has certainly thought up a good idea, but doesn’t seem to be able to sustain it and parts of his film are rather tedious, while kaiju fans will be extremely disappointed by the fact that there’s probably only about ten minutes of actual monster footage in the whole movie, with even the supposed climax a huge disappointment. There are certainly some things to enjoy and appreciate in Colossal, but as a whole it just doesn’t succeed in what it’s trying to be – whatever that is.
The very promising opening features a girl searching for a doll in a park and encountering a huge monster. There’s awe, fear and wonder, three things which never turn up in the film again. Then we meet our heroine and the monster doesn’t appear again for nearly half an hour, but that’s actually okay because I was quite involved in the tale of a damaged woman returning to her home town, reconnecting with her school pal, and trying to get her life back together. A heavy drinker, it’s hardly a good thing for Gloria that Oscar and his friends tend to booze until morning, and that he even offers Gloria a job in the bar that he owns. Still, she seems to be a little happier, Oscar even bringing round new things for her empty house every day. The laid-back drama initially works fine as we spend time with broken Gloria, her seeming knight in shining armour [though he rather over reacts when he sees Garth try to kiss Gloria] Oscar, simple Garth who clearly fancies Gloria, and Joel who’s a recovering heroin addict. In fact [and I can’t believe that I’m saying this, considering what a fan of giant monsters I am] the film may well have been better off sticking with the humans and not bringing in a huge creature at all. Anne Hathaway, always good at playing this kind of character, turns in another compelling and detailed performance for the most part, but isn’t a very convincing drunk – well, I certainly wasn’t sold when she was supposed to be heavily inebriated. Just compare her with, say, Emily Blunt in The Girl On The Train and you’ll see what I mean.
So a kaiju materialises and dematerialises in Seoul whenever Gloria crosses a playground, and the bits of news footage that we see have a nice Cloverfield feel to them. Then Gloria notices that the creature does exactly the same head rubbing gesture that she does. She also does a dance which it mimics also. And then other movements. Could she in a way be controlling it? Unfortunately Gloria also begins to feel that she’s responsible for the destruction and the many people killed by the monster. One of the cleverest things about this film is how it subverts the way kaiju fans like Yours Truly would so love to be inside a monster suit knocking down model buildings, and subtly criticises the way the majority of these movies all but ignore the human carnage. We’ll never allowed to forget that Colossal’s beast has slaughtered thousands. Gloria does learn how to control the monster so it becomes harmless, but then things are suddenly complicated by the appearance of a giant robot, while Oscar could possibly be more similar to Gloria than he lets on, as well as possibly not being the nice guy that he initially appeared to be.
It’s easy to think where things are headed, the film marking a hell of a lot of time along the way, and those thoughts would be mostly correct. I say mostly, because the expected big showdown doesn’t happen. Instead, we get a jokey and very quick confrontation that I guess has some kind of bizarre logic to it but which also seems to indicate, as is the case throughout the film, that Vigalondo has little real affection for kaiju movies and certainly doesn’t seem interested in pleasing fans of these films. And if you think about it, there’s something hugely wrong about what Gloria has to do to supposedly set things right, and the ridiculously simple way that her serious problems are apparently conquered might very well be insulting to viewers who know people with mental disorders. The screenplay is often odd in the wrong way and tends to try to have it both ways. There’s a great deal that’s unexplained, though we do get some kind of explanation as to why this whole thing started, and it’s such a stupid excuse for an explanation that I have no idea why Vigalondo bothered providing it in the first place. The monster is a blindingly obvious metaphor for facing your demons or understanding of the consequences of your actions, but we are also probably intended to think that the film has other deeper meanings, though I certainly didn’t pick on them, instead being left with a movie that was considerably emptier than it gave the impression of being.
There’s no real psychological insight into the states of the two main characters. In fact poor writing is dotted throughout the film, like the supposed love interest who exists just to have sex with Gloria and then go back to being wallpaper in the background before eventually disappearing completely from the proceedings. On the other hand, the lengthy scenes of the four main characters just chatting in the bar work very well, with a improvisational quality that feels quite real. All four performers inhabit their roles very well, Jason Sudeikis being especially good, though his character’s ‘change’ is overly sudden and would have benefitted from being more gradual. Dan Stevens is also fine in his rather brief role, if on occasion very similar to Sudeikis which may or may not have been intentional. It’s another aspect of the script which gave me the impression that Vigalondo hurriedly wrote a first draft and then filmed it with no alterations, though this probably wasn’t the case. And, despite the trailer suggesting otherwise, there are precious few laughs, despite the fact that it tends to deal with its issues on the level of a weak sitcom.
Technically Colossal isn’t bad, the fleeting special effects moments looking reasonable, though how much more fun it would have been if the very bipedal monster and the robot had been realised through suitmation instead of CGI made to look like suitmation. Colossal is certainly quite unique, which is a positive thing in itself, and it almost pains me to criticise so much a film which isn’t part of a franchise or which doesn’t features bloody superheroes, and where its writer/director doesn’t seem to have compromised whatsoever in putting his vision onto the screen. But the plain and simple truth of the matter is that the film just doesn’t come off despite the obviously hard work put into it by some. It doesn’t seem to know what it is and what it’s saying and, while many other critics do seem to see a quality in the film which I don’t except in small portions, I reckon that the majority of paying punters will feel rather frustrated and irritated as they leave the cinema.