Apr 182017

Writer-director Nacho Vigalando blows to bits his love story and morphs his movie into a totally bonkers horror flick.

Colossal, written and directed by Nacho Vigalando. Screening at Kendall Square Cinema and Somerville Theater.

Anne Hathaway unleashes a monster in "Colossal."

In “Colossal,” Anne Hathaway unleashes a several-stories-high monster which, Godzilla-style, destroys all in its path… in Seoul, South Korea.

By Gerald Peary

My thought as I watched Colossal: how could such an improbable, often messy story, which feels concocted in Screenwriting 1 by a geeky undergrad, end up being bought and made on a $15 million dollar budget? And with an “A-list” actress in the lead, and with high-cost special effects and a cast of hundreds of Korean extras fleeing from the monsters out to destroy Seoul?

I was wrong about the American college-boy script. Colossal was written and directed by the colorfully named Nacho Vigalando, a 40-year-old Spanish filmmaker who grew up on American horror extravaganzas, especially the many versions of King Kong. He is responsible for, in his native country, a well-received sci-fi film, Timecrimes (2007), and a failed produced-in-the-USA one, Open Windows (2014), starring ex-porn superstar, Sasha Gray.

For Colossal, Vigalando made a huge step up in the casting of his actress lead. Classy Anne Hathaway plays Gloria, a boozy party girl in NYC, who, unemployed, lives irresponsibly off of the earnings of Tim (Dan Stevens), her Brit corporate boyfriend. After she has drunk through the night with her girlfriends, angry Tim puts his foot down. He packs her suitcases and orders her to leave his apartment.

A new beginning for Gloria. She retreats to her hometown Somewhere in Small-Town America. As her parents are away, she moves alone into the old family house, now bare of furniture. It’s a perfect place for a penitent. Gloria goes farther, taking a humble job as a waitress in a tavern run by Oscar (SNL’s Jason Sudeikis), a childhood friend.

Does this all sound like a very conventional Hollywood romance? With Gloria either (a) gaining a new maturity and returning remorsefully to Tim in New York, or (B) gaining a new maturity and becoming involved with Oscar, the authentic lad from the real America.

What does happen? Resoundingly, neither of the above. Instead, writer-director Vigalando blows to bits his love story and (the geek factor!) morphs his movie into a totally bonkers horror flick. As it’s in the Coming Attractions, this part can be revealed without declaring Spoiler Alert! When Gloria stands in a certain place in a local park at 8:05 AM, she unleashes a several-stories-high monster which, Godzilla-style, destroys all in its path… in Seoul, South Korea.

I will run this by you one more time, confused reader. One minute in Colossal we’re watching Gloria try to adjust to life in Trumptown USA. The next, South Korea is being stomped on by a murderous behemoth, which is some kind of projection of Gloria’s warped psyche. She’s the self-loathing alcoholic, and this gargantuan creature in Korea apes her every action. If she raises her arm, It raises its arm. If her arm swings out aggressively, woe to those in Seoul in the way of the lethal arm of the monster.

Yes, Gloria inadvertently kills people. Lots of them. She’s dug a far bigger hole for herself than when she dumped on her NY boyfriend.

How does Gloria make up for her multitude of serial-killer sins? She decides to stop drinking, which certainly seems a good step. She also pledges to stop killing, a benevolent idea. But three righteous deeds are beyond her. She foolishly sleeps with a local boy-toy, Joel (Austin Stowell), which appears to make Oscar, her bar-owning boss, dangerously jealous. It’s unstated in this overstated movie, but Oscar probably wishes Gloria would be his gal.

Whatever, another improbability, but on a character level. Nice-guy Oscar, a modest and kind-hearted country bumpkin, transforms before our disbelieving eyes into a vainglorious madman. Lots of “Honey, I’m home” scenery-chewing from Jason Sudeikis. OK, Spoiler Alert. Spoiler Alert. Oscar in the park becomes, in Seoul, a gigantic robot man; and, unlike the now-pacifist Gloria, he revels in his powers to destroy. How much more sensual and thrilling, crunching Koreans, than to be a small-potatoes nobody.

Colossal soon becomes Gloria vs. Oscar punching each other in the local park while, simultaneously, the two fiendish creatures battle in Seoul. Come on, Gloria!

I saw this movie with my feminist wife. We both agreed that the men in the film were moral weaklings and total dicks, and Gloria correctly rejected all of them. If Colossal gets any points, says my wise spouse, it’s not for the absurd script but for, in some twisted way, being a vessel for female empowerment.

Gerald Peary is a retired film studies professor at Suffolk University, Boston, curator of the Boston University Cinematheque, and the general editor of the “Conversations with Filmmakers” series from the University Press of Mississippi. A critic for the late Boston Phoenix, he is the author of nine books on cinema, writer-director of the documentaries For the Love of Movies: the Story of American Film Criticism and Archie’s Betty, and a featured actor in the 2013 independent narrative Computer Chess.


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