Film Review: Colossal, A Smart and Wildly Imaginative Giant Monster Movie

Photograph courtesy of Neon I love the way the mind of writer-director Nacho Vigalondo works. He selects a genre that he clearly loves and wonders “What if we took the tropes of this type of film and did THIS with them instead?” He reworked the time-travel story into the beautifully bent narrative Timecrimes. Then he took the Rear Window scenario and sent it down the internet rabbit hole with Open Windows. A big hit at the Toronto Film Festival and Fantastic Fest last year, as well as Sundance and SXSW this year, his latest work, Colossal, has a few new things to say about the giant-monster movie, with a great cold open set in Seoul, South Korea, where a towering creature is terrorizing the locals. We don’t know much about it, beyond the fact that it’s big, scary and clearly upset about something. Jump ahead many years into the blurry-eyed present-day life of Gloria (a phenomenal Anne Hathaway), a New York party girl living with her doting boyfriend, Tim (Dan Stevens, currently starring in The Ticket), who is tired of living with someone who acts like an unsupervised teenager, so he kicks her out. She moves back to her hometown and into the vacant, unfurnished family home. It doesn’t take long for her to reconnect with one of the few old friends still living in the town, Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), who not only brings her a few old pieces of furniture to help fill up her place but also offers her a job at the bar that he owns. One morning after a particularly dedicated bender, Gloria awakens to news of the aforementioned monster returning to do a more damage in Seoul, and she begins to suspect that something she was involved with the night before might have a connection to the monster, and that is the first of many signs that Colossal is going to be something quite different than your typical monster movie. I don’t want to give away any of the twists the film takes, but the Spanish-born Vigalondo is one of many horror-esque directors of late who has turned his attention to the way childhood trauma impacts us as adults, and he maneuvers that notion places I’ve never seen it taken. Photograph courtesy of Neon Nothing is simple here, even the friendship with Oscar gets complicated and takes on a dimension I hadn’t anticipated, one that also involves big, stompy monsters. And the surprisingly complex plot of Colossal only works because Hathaway commits fully to the film’s emotional components, beginning with a complete meltdown as the movie opens and continuing through a slow and steady rebuilding of her strength as a functioning adult—with a few stumbling blocks along the way. The real surprise in Colossal is Sudeikis’ take on Oscar, who starts out as a real sweetheart and transforms into something else, almost with us realizing it—something whose actions in the past and the present have huge ramifications. I also liked the Oscar’s two bar buddies (Austin Stowell and Tim Blake Nelson) both amusing and slightly tragic, as the film also examines the life un-lived for people who never leave their hometown. It’s the more intimate and more vulnerable moments that I found most inspiring here, especially in the context of what could have easily been a dopey, escapist kaiju film (not that there’s anything wrong with those). You can actually feel Vigalondo getting better with each new film, and I’m slightly desperate to see what he comes up with next. Do not miss it. The film opens today at the Landmark Century Center Cinema.
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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a frequent contributor at /Film ( and Backstory Magazine. He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.