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[TIFF Review] ‘Colossal’ is a Divisive Genre Mash-up

COLOSSAL

Ever since Nacho Vigalondo’s debut feature film Time Crimes came out, he’s been a director to keep an eye on. Among TIFF festival guides, the director’s latest Colossal was frequently named as one of the films piquing people’s interests and after catching a screening today, it’s easy to understand why.

Colossal is a very unusual film. Frequently billed as a rom-com sci-fi, the film stars Anne Hathaway as a lovable drunk named Gloria whose life is basically in ruins when the film begins. After a seemingly out of place opening sequence involving a little girl and a giant monster in Seoul, Korea, the action jumps 25 years later to New York where Gloria returns home after a night of hard-partying to find her British boyfriend (Dan Stevens) at his wits end. He’s packed her bags and wants her gone. Cue the title card.

The proximity of that first scene to Gloria’s domestic problems isn’t revealed for a while. First she has to return to her abandoned childhood home upstate, encounter her old friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis) who is clearly still harbouring a crush, and continue getting loaded. One great aspect of the film is the fact that it doesn’t take shortcuts when it comes to Gloria’s alcoholism. She frequently wakes up in odd places, in uncomfortable positions, with little to no recollection of what she said the night before. She’s a character worth rooting for because she is a realistic human being with faults and Hathaway, also a producer of the film, gives Gloria an easy charm that helps carry the film through some of its shakier moments. The less said about her atrocious wig, however, the better – that thing may be the most horrific thing I’ve seen at TIFF this year.

[Related] All Toronto International Film Festival coverage on Bloody Disgusting

The plot kicks in when Gloria wakes up to the horrifying news that a monster (the same one glimpsed in the opening scene) has gone on a rampage through the streets of Seoul. Eventually it is revealed that there is an unexpected connection between Gloria and the monster in a scene that is played for delightfully wacky laughs by Hathaway. In this first half there’s a fun, almost childish enthusiasm to the proceedings that someone on Twitter rightfully suggested is a combination of Rachel Getting Married and Pacific Rim (picture that if you will).

It’s when things take a dark turn in the second half that Colossal loses its footing. Gloria and Oscar’s relationship to the monster is further complicated and the film eventually slides into a murky examination of gender, power and responsibility. While there are still amusing moments, the latter half of the film doesn’t have the same balance of tone and the result is a grim, abusive turn for the worst. Credit Sudeikis (who, full confession, I’m not a huge fan of) for nailing Oscar’s evolution from nice guy to asshole, even if the nature of his insecurity is a little too simplistic to satisfy.

It’s undeniable that Colossal is a more complicated and messy film in its second half, particularly the last act, which overstays its welcome by delaying the dramatic confrontation for far too long. The result is an interesting, albeit very divisive genre mash-up (several members of my audience walked out, which is something I hadn’t seen before). It would be disingenuous, however, not to praise Vigalondo for being ambitious. Colossal is an imperfect film, but it’s unlike anything I’ve seen and among a sea of sad imitations, the film is a refreshing attempt to do something new. When the comedy, sci-fi and the social commentary are aligned, the film is an unexpected treat and even when things go off the rails a bit, the film is eminently watchable, especially for Hathaway’s dedicated performance (albeit not her atrocious wig).

* It should be noted that Colossal is much better suited for audiences who like character driven comedy/dramas with a sci-fi twist rather than hardcore genre fans of Time Crimes or Vigalondo’s contributions in ABCs of Death or V/H/S.


12 Comments
  • Barry El Beardo

    This sounds like an american sequel to The Host…

    • Joe Lipsett

      More comedic, less monster-driven

  • J Jett

    i’m confused, so the focus really isn’t on the monster very much? it sounds like a character study about an alcoholic…oh with a very background semi-storyline about some random monster (no description is given whatsoever). is this movie more like CLOVERFIELD or is more like some Lifetime film about a woman who’s an alcoholic?

    • Sounds like the monster is a literal, living and breathing analogy to Hathaway’s ups and downs as an alcoholic. This is what I’m gathering. I feel like reviewers are shying away from the details as it’s treated as a twist or reveal during the course of the film.

    • Tim N

      I caught this at TIFF on Saturday. I really, really think it’s significant to go into this one knowing as little as possible, but what I will say is it’s as much a character study of repressed childhood trauma and alcoholism as it is a complete spoof of kaiju films and rom-coms, where the “focus” is more on subverting genre tropes than anything. It’s hilarious, it’s unique, it’s fucking bizarre, and it’s something that exists entirely within its own realm. Can’t wait to see how they’re going to market this one.

    • Joe Lipsett

      Definitely not Cloverfield

  • J Jett

    oh, guy, i watched an awesome 2 parter live action Japanese creature/monster film yesterday called PARASYTE (PART 1 AND 2). i’m surprised it’s not being covered on this site. it’s very INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS/THE THING (people’s heads explode open and turn into creatures that have blade-like tentacles that slice people every way imaginable). it has tons of blood/gore as well as excellent acting, CGI/fx, musical score, etc. i guess it’s based on an anime of the same name involving shrimp size parasites that enter someone’s ears or nose and take over their brains. they feed (some very indiscreetly!) on humans and are planning on taking over the world.

    both part 1 & part 2 of this movie i can’t recommend highly enough! the way infected people’s heads explode open (think THE THING where the guy’s head tears open and turns into a mouth) exposing slashing blades decapitating (and worse!) their victims is excellently done (CGI/fx-wise).

    “Humanity is suffering from murders all over the
    globe, called “Mincemeat murders”. High school student, Izumi Shinichi
    has a parasite living off him, having replaced his right hand, and he
    might be the discoverer of truth.”

    • Richter Belmont

      Hey, Jett! I know you’ve been looking forward to seeing Train To Busan. Well, it is now available at kissasian. Seriously, drop everything and watch it, right now!

      It is officially my favourite film of the year, currently! Soooo gooood!!!

  • I find this idea infinitely interesting however execution is key. I’m certainly looking forward to seeing how this plays out.

  • Tim N

    I caught this at TIFF on Saturday. I really, really think it’s significant to go into this one knowing as little as possible, but what I will say is it’s hilarious, it’s unique, it’s fucking bizarre, and it’s something that exists entirely within its own realm. Can’t wait to see how they’re going to market this one. I think this is a fair review that reflects the film’s key strengths and potential weaknesses.

    • Joe Lipsett

      The marketing will be IMMENSELY interesting to watch. Do they spoil what’s happening or not? Something tells me it’ll only focus on the comedy bits with Gloria, not the darker second half at all

  • Joe Lipsett

    Despite the tangent, I love the plug for Train to Busan. That was a GREAT film

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