Sometimes a high concept premise can prove to be a film’s downfall, opening up a world of potential that the finish product just can’t live up to. So it is with Nacho Vigalondo’s psychological kaiju dramedy Colossal. The set-up sees Anne Hathaway’s Gloria at something of a crisis point in her life and suddenly discovering some kind of telepathic connection with an enormous monster that has concurrently appeared half way around the world and begun rampaging around Seoul, South Korea. What sounds like an enormously fun and quite interesting idea fades all too quickly into generic silliness.
For the first third or so of its overly long runtime (almost two hours) Colossal feels like a souped-up relocation of last year’s dark and disturbing German thriller Der Nachtmahr. That film hooked the potent cocktail of adolescent hormones, drugs and a psychotic break to the appearance of a vicious little sprite that followed around its teenage protagonist. Vigalondo’s screenplay similarly connects the appearance of its kaiju – which has a hint of North Korean monster Pulgasari about it – to Gloria emotional instability and her longstanding alcoholism. “I killed a shitload of people because I was acting like a drunk idiot,” balls Gloria, her hangover guilt suddenly a lot more proportional. However, Vigalondo doesn’t really pursue these thematic threads, indeed Gloria’s journey – convincingly portrayed by Hathaway – is inexplicably sidelined in favour of old friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis).
Initially set up as the nice guy she’s always overlooked – rather than her British ex-boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens) – Vigalondo subverts this trope to have Oscar become a menacing antagonist. Where Gloria is intent on wrestling back control of her inner-demons, Oscar is unable to contain his anymore. Where Gloria is connected to a monster, Oscar himself becomes one. This shift can be read as a scathing critique of a particular pervasive form of possessive modern misogyny but it is such an unnatural lurch in the context of the narrative that it lacks force.
Instead, what might have been a smart and funny genre oddity devolves into a homogeneous and banal kaiju vs mecha slug-fest with none of budget or thrills of the likes of Pacific Rim. Far more disappointing, though, is the effect of Gloria’s dreamy flashbacks which slowly build to the revelation of a repressed childhood memory. It kind of, sort of, explains everything but in doing so utterly undermines the complexity and emotional nuance of Gloria’s internal turmoil and the reasons for her connection to the creature. Colossal winds up as monsters hitting each other, a crying shame given the idea’s potential.
The Toronto Film Festival takes place from 8-18 September. For our coverage follow this link.
Ben Nicholson | @BRNicholson