Review: Colossal (TIFF 2016)
PLOT: A young woman (Anne Hathaway) discovers that she has a psychic connection with a giant lizard terrorizing Seoul.
REVIEW: I'll admit that I was somewhat wary of the log-line for director Nacho Vigalondo's COLOSSAL. I'd take the fact that Toho sic'd their lawyers on the producers for its similarity to GODZILLA with a grain of salt, as you've never seen a Kaiju movie like this before. Shot on a tiny budget, that’s more a quirky character study than anything else. In fact, you really only ever see the monster attack on Seoul through footage on TV's, tablets and phones, with 95% of the action taking place in the suburb Anne Hathaway's party girl heroine returns too after being dumped by her boyfriend (Dan Stevens) who's fed up with her always being drunk.
Crashing on an air mattress in her old childhood home, Hathaway's out-of-work blogger takes a job working with an old friend, a bar owner played by Jason Sudeikis, who's always had an unrequited crush on her. Up to now, I admit this all sounds terribly conventional, even if it does have random newscasts in the background showing a rampaging lizard destroying Seoul. Eventually, Hathaway realizes the monster is somehow being controlled by her, despite having no connection whatsoever to Seoul. She convinces her new friends, including a coked-up Tim Blake Nelson and thickheaded Austin Stonewall that the monster is her, and this is when COLOSSAL gets really interesting.
As much as Hathaway is the lead, the movie hinges on Sudeikis's performance. While I'm usually not his biggest fan, he's perfectly cast, with a dark twist revealing something interesting that subverts the pining nice guy stereotype. I won't give away what it is, but it takes COLOSSAL into surprisingly dark territory, with the lives of millions at stake. That Vigolando is able to do this without ever really showing any carnage or even the monster itself (created with some admittedly dodgy CGI that could be cleaned-up a bit if this gets bought by a big distributor) is something. It's a truly impressive mix of comedy, tragedy, spectacle and some dark drama, but it all comes together really well.
COLOSSAL also marks a return to form for Hathaway, who's mostly cast in big studio films but often does her best work in indie fare. In a way, this is a companion piece to RACHEL GETTING MARRIED, with her character a similar party-girl, with a substance abuse problem. Early on, this is played mostly for laughs, with Dan Stevens channeling Hugh Grant in his befuddlement as her boyfriend. As the movie goes on, you understand why Hathaway would opt for such an offbeat assignment, as she’s really given the opportunity to carry the film and play a character who’s not defined by her relationships, as she too often is in studio fare like THE INTERN. This is really Hathaway at her best.
The only problem with the premise of COLOSSAL is that the “rules” they try to establish for the monsters don’t really hold up to scrutiny, and the conclusion is a little too clever for its own good. It’s clear Vigolando also wanted to end the film on a note that would please genre fans, although it feels out of tune with the rest of the film, and more like something out of CLOVERFIELD. Even still, COLOSSAL is a defiantly original, often funny monster movie and an unexpected TIFF genre treat.