In many ways, writer/director Nacho Vigalando's Colossal is the antithesis of its title. It has notable leads, but a minuscule budget; a wildly creative premise, but a very tight narrative; and a giant monster that primarily shows up on tablets and smart phones. It's big ideas fit a tiny package, and it's fascinating in that way -- in addition to being one of the most refreshingly imaginative and surprising features of the young year.
The new film fits right in line with Vigalando's past work, he being the brain behind the mind-bending thriller Timecrimes and the computer monitor-bound horror Open Windows, but Colossal is also imbued with a wonderful sense of humor that allows you to fully embrace its weirdness. The story centers on Gloria (Anne Hathaway), who finds her life in a bit of a shambles when months of joblessness and late night drinking lead her boyfriend (Dan Stevens) to kick her out of their shared New York apartment. With no other options, she goes back to her hometown to sleep in her parent's old, empty house... and it's there that the strangeness really begins.
After easing back in to the neighborhood -- meeting up with a childhood friend, Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), and getting a job at his bar -- the globe is rocked by unthinkable news. Seoul, South Korea is attacked by a giant monster that storms through town and disappears just minutes after showing up. Given her repetitive routine of waking up, drinking, passing out, and then waking up again, this is hard for Gloria to get her mind around, but when studying the footage she figures it out. While she has no idea why it's happening, she realizes the kaiju is actually an extension of herself whenever she walks through the playground by her house at 8:05 in the morning.
Along with Oscar and two new friends she makes at the bar, Garth (Tim Blake Nelson) and Joel (Austin Stowell), Gloria tries to investigate the phenomenon, but in doing so not only gets a lot of people hurt, but also accidentally opens both herself and humanity to a much greater threat.
It's sci-fi that delightfully and artistically commits to being its own odd tale, but like all great sci-fi, Colossal also wonderfully weaves in metaphor and themes that alter context and allow for deep thought. From the larger narrative there is a clear message about the way our modern society views tragedy on the other side of the planet, absorbing it like entertainment and forgetting it as soon as our devices are switched off. It also does a meditative and fantastic job operating as a character study as well, however, with Gloria given a substantial and meaningful arc motivated by self-empowerment and self-definition, understanding that the world is affected by the energy that you put out into it.
The small scale nature of the story demands that the characters and personalities shine, and Colossal offers truly phenomenal material for the two leads. Playing an unexpected and different role, Anne Hathaway gives Gloria a funny and likable edge even as she continues on her broken path -- and it winds up fueling the audience's desire to see her clean up her act and do the right thing. Thanks to the film's complex tone it's a role that requires a lot from its performer, as on a dime you can go from laughing at Gloria's situation to pitying it, and Hathaway nails it.
It's obviously not a tremendous shock that an Academy Award winner would put in a great turn, but that just leaves the door open for Jason Sudeikis to really surprise. While the former Saturday Night Live star often plays characters who are far too smug for their own good, it's a special energy that actually works perfectly for Oscar. Over the course of the film there is a significant way in which the audience's perception of him, and it's a powerful transformation motivated by surprising intensity that he has never really fully displayed before. It's legitimately an impressive thing to watch.
The coming summer season will be filled with all kinds of large scale genre fare backed by $150 million blockbuster budgets, but by the end of the year Colossal will still stick out in memory as one of the best of the bunch. It's unique creative spirit alone makes it a film well worth discovering and exploring, and while it's only getting a small release to start with, it's a film that will and most definitely should find an audience that will love it.