SXSW: “Colossal” uses monsters to explore alcoholism, domestic violence

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of NEON | Daily Texan Staff

Monsters are great metaphors for mankind’s demons. “Gojira” is about nuclear holocaust. “A Monster Calls” is about accepting death. Nacho Vigalondo’s “Colossal” is about alcoholism and domestic violence. How “Colossal” tackles these issues so creatively is a feat on its own, and it is a unique experiment in genre-bending worthy of attention.

At its center is Anne Hathaway as Gloria, an unemployed alcoholic who gets kicked out by her abusive boyfriend, Tim (Dan Stevens), and returns to her hometown to get her life back on track. There, she reconnects with an old classmate, Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), and becomes a waitress at his bar. While she’s certainly taking a step toward self-sufficiency, she doesn’t do herself any favors by continuing to pound down Pabst Blue Ribbons nightly.

Coinciding with Gloria’s return is the appearance of a gigantic monster in Seoul, South Korea which rampages through the city before vanishing into a cloud of lightning.  It reappears in Seoul and kills hundreds each evening at the exact same time that, on the other side of the globe, Gloria drunkenly wanders through an old playground on her way home after a night of drinking. After the monster makes a few appearances, Gloria recognizes her own physicality in footage of the beast, from her gait to her nervous tics.

The moment Gloria realizes that the monster is linked to her is played for both shock and laughs. Her alcoholism is no longer just damaging to her, but also to strangers across the globe. Lives now rest in her hands. Vigalondo successfully incorporates the monster into the narrative by slowly easing its absurdity into a largely grounded narrative, giving it a fantasy element that feels very much at home with the story he’s telling.

It helps that Hathaway sells the premise so well. No one has ever made a playground seem so scary to walk around before, but Hathaway doesn’t skip a beat when any step Gloria takes could literally spell doom for others. Without the right actress, moments like these risk being entirely silly. Hathaway doesn’t make us completely forget the ridiculousness of Gloria’s situation, but she also makes us take it seriously. Hathaway masterfully portrays a wide range of emotions, molding Gloria into a consistently engaging individual.

Hathaway’s performance is nearly matched by Sudeikis’ turn as Oscar, a layered character who also drowns his sorrows in the bottle. It’s nice to see him in a role that isn’t purely comedic, and it holds up a mirror to Gloria that motivates her to become a more independent and responsible person.

Running at 110 minutes, “Colossal” does strangely feel a little long. There are a few repetitive interactions between Gloria and Oscar that drag out the story more than need be, and the ending is a little too dark.

However, there is triumph in the closing of the film, which sees Gloria overcome the abuse she has endured from the controlling men in her life and become a hero. Gloria experiences violence movie that won’t be easy to stomach, but the scenes where we fear for her character prepare us for a dramatic finale where she asserts her power at last. Her monstrous double is no longer a demon, but a force for good. She is, without a doubt, a colossal hero.

“Colossal”

Running Time: 110 minutes

Rating: R

Score: 4/5 stars