Kaiju, a popular Japanese film genre, typically features a giant monster attacking a city (think Godzilla and King Kong). Earlier this month, director Ignacio “Nacho” Vigalondo’s latest film Colossal starring Anne Hathaway put a fresh face on this straightforward science fiction concept, straying away from the action and gore of its predecessors.
Colossal opens much more like a relationship drama, focusing on interpersonal conflict between Hathaway’s character Gloria and her boyfriend Joel, resulting from Gloria’s ongoing alcoholism and unemployment.
When Joel sends her packing, Gloria returns to her childhood hometown to find new work and find herself, she runs into an old friend named Oscar—skillfully played by Jason Sudeikis— and starts working for him as a bartender. In revisiting her old “stomping grounds” (pun-intended) she realizes that her reappearance in the town is linked to the reappearance of a giant monster in Seoul, South Korea, which she can mystically control.
While there are many moments of relatable misfortune and clever plot twists, the film lacks the levity you would expect from a film dubbed a “sci-fi comedy,” and may have been better labeled “sci-fi drama with moments of dark humor.” Though, perhaps the word “comedy” is referring to the way that the monster is used as a character development device in the film, instead of being a source of chilling terror or ultimate destruction.
Because the monster, in an ultimate sense, is a tool for Gloria to navigate her present and past self, the focus of the movie is never on removing the monster from Seoul, unlike other action-packed kaiju films.
Make no mistake, Colossal is not a love story. In fact, the power dynamics in the film seem to be a critique of the crafty and underhanded behaviors equipped in modern times by heterosexual men to maintain dominance and degrade their partners. Even after their split, Gloria’s uppity ex-boyfriend Joel babysits her every move. He spins Gloria in circles, leaving her to wonder if the fault for their failure is hers or his by constantly switching his behavior from being controlling and degrading to ensuring syrupy-sweet apologies.
Her relationship with Oscar is equally complicated, as he presents a guise of being a “friendly neighbor” with a chance at a sincere relationship before the nature of his character completely shifts. The conflict between Gloria and Oscar originated from their small town upbringing, but other deep rooted emotional trauma quickly surfaces. At the height of Oscar’s character revelation, Sudeikis executes beautifully. This performance demonstrates his ability for versatility, having recently starred in The Angry Birds Movie last year, this film is a change of pace for the comedic actor.
As for Hathaway, her performance is perfect. Her messy lack-of-control alcoholic behavior and genuine confusion of who to trust and where to turn is spot-on. Though, it always feels wrong to see such a regal actress play a broken character.
Because of its quirky genre-bending nature, Colossal can be a hard sell for some viewers who might feel confused by the relationship drama and monster combination. Though, it was not executed in a way that feels disjointed or confusing, it is a movie that takes some close attention to unravel (not a movie to smooch through folks, bring your date to something else). Because the plot contains a lot of surprises and uses a develop-and-shock-as-we-go strategy, the movie rarely feels slow, and can leave viewers feeling like they may need a beat or two longer to fully digest a moment.
While perhaps only related by the similar looking friendly monsters and indie color scheme, Colossal brought me back to my love for Steven Spielberg’s Super 8 and would likely be a hit with those who are a fan of the Netflix Original Stranger Things. Though, Colossal sets itself apart from other sci-fi dramas by incorporating characters and conflicts that are, at times, all too real and relatable for an adult audience.
Ultimately, the natural human attraction to movies that use monsters to reflect human problems is just a mature throwback the time we spent sitting in the sandbox with Barbies and BIONCLES. Sometimes it feels easier to communicate feelings and experiences through inanimate objects, or in this case, monsters. Because of its whimsical and quirky approach to heavy subjects, Colossal is a must-see this spring. And just as a friendly reminder, you can catch it at the SIFF Cinema Egyptian for just $5 with TeenTix.
Haley may be reached at