The monster in 2016's Colossal

Nacho Vigolondo’s ‘Colossal’: When Human Emotions Turn Monstrous

Whenever fans talk about monster movies, we generally get the usual suspects that come up in those discussions, and it’s usually the likes of Godzilla and King Kong (or the creatures from those universes) who often dominate those conversations. And I get it. These characters have become iconic and have been a part of popular culture for decades now, but I thought that for this assignment, I’d show some love to one of the more under-discussed monster movies of the last five years: Nacho Vigolondo’s Colossal. There will be spoilers.

In the film, Vigalondo starts off with a flashback of some 25 years prior, when a mysterious skyscraper-sized monstrosity mysteriously appears out of nowhere in Seoul, South Korea, terrifying residents. Colossal then heads back to the present day, as Gloria (Anne Hathaway) stumbles home in the early morning hours after yet another night of partying, much to the disapproval of her boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens). Fed up with her shallow behaviour, Tim orders Gloria out of his apartment, leaving her to retreat to the safety of her parents’ abandoned house, so she can try and get her life on track again. As she returns to her hometown, Gloria reconnects with an old friend named Oscar (Jason Sudeikis) who runs a bar in town and offers her a job when he realises she is a bit down on her luck.

Now that she’s gainfully employed and has a roof over her head, Gloria believes that she’s finally making progress in her pursuit of becoming a real adult. But that joy is short-lived once Gloria discovers that her arrival home is somehow linked to the reappearance of the giant monster in South Korea. Beyond that, somehow Oscar is also connected to the phenomenon and he’s able to manifest a giant robot in the country as well. It’s all fun and games at first, but Gloria’s realization that their discovery has devastating consequences for the residents of South Korea, forcing her to confront her own demons — and finally put the past to rest — in an effort to finally put the monsters to rest that are ravaging the cityscape thousands of miles away.

One of the biggest reasons that Colossal has always been a standout monster movie to me is that it takes time to recognise the destruction that comes in these types of films. Don’t get me wrong, I love watching oversized creatures battle it out in spectacle-filled set pieces just as much as the next Monster Kid. But the reality is that in many instances, there is a heavy toll of carnage and wreckage that generally accompanies this kind of entertainment, and I appreciate that Vigalondo addresses this Catch-22 through the character of Gloria in Colossal.

Anne Hathaway in Colossal

At first, she is delighted when she realises that the South Korean monster is her very own avatar, and utilizes the creature to perform some silly tricks and dance moves, all well and good in Gloria’s world. But with one little slip, Gloria’s thoughtlessness leads to the deaths of hundreds of people, and when she sees what her selfish behaviour has wrought, Hathaway’s character is immediately wracked with guilt. And of course, that monster is a metaphor for Gloria’s own calamitous behaviours, with Vigalondo turning the towering creature into an allegory for the irresponsibility that comes from Gloria’s reckless drinking, her inability to take responsibility for her actions in her own life and the other selfishly detrimental behaviours that she exhibits throughout Colossal.

Hathaway has given us some incredible performances throughout her career, but her role here is amongst my favourites. She perfectly embodies this woman who is the definition of a hot mess. Hathaway’s raw and profoundly relatable portrayal of this woman who is constantly being told who she should be by all the men in her life is extremely nuanced, and I adore how much she commits to her vulnerable and messy portrayal of Gloria in Colossal.

There’s also a point in the film where Gloria finally has to take a stand, and that comes from her being cornered emotionally (and physically) by Oscar who transforms throughout Colossal from a helpful childhood friend into a smug, power-wielding abuser who threatens to continue causing chaos in South Korea unless Gloria does everything that he wants. And while many of us have never conjured up gigantic monster avatars in other countries, I think many of us have known an Oscar or two in our lives: someone who plays the “nice guy” role until he doesn’t get exactly what he wants, and he then finds a way to manipulate others in an effort to keep feeding his own ego and controlling a situation that’s usually beyond his control otherwise. And for as great as Hathaway is in Colossal, Sudeikis’ performance here is downright revelatory, because he becomes the scariest aspect of the entire film, which is no easy feat when you’re talking about monster movies.

Another reason that I have always had a great deal of fondness for Colossal is that it’s one of those rare monster movies that is about so much more than just gleefully watching giants ravage yet another urban locale just for entertainment’s sake (other examples would be Troll Hunter and Gareth Edwards’ Monsters). This story is really about the negligent way that many of us treat the people in our lives and the collateral damage that often occurs when we disregard the feelings of others. Beyond that, Colossal is also a story of a woman coming to terms with the harm that she has caused, and rather than trying to overlook Gloria’s imperfections, Vigalondo embraces them, demonstrating that even when we are at our worst, we’re all worth redeeming if we take responsibility for our actions.

Godzilla vs Kong is available to rent in the UK from 1st April.

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