The premise of the new film from indie director Nacho Vigalondo colossal is so weird that it just might work. It’s about loser millennial Gloria (Anne Hathaway), a party animal whose drunken binges cause a giant monster to wake up and rampage through Seoul. The debris of her personal life seems somehow psychically connected to the kaiju destruction.
Although his star Hathaway is an Academy Award winner and celebrity, colossal sneaked into the world without much fuss. It just debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival, and early reviews suggest it’s uneven, but definitely worth checking out. The plot combines your typical ‘aimless thirties’ plot with gigantic monster action.
When Gloria’s boyfriend dumps her, she returns to her hometown broke and depressed. But during another drunken night at a bar, her childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis) comes back into her life. It is then that she begins to realize that there is a mysterious connection between her drinking binges and the kaiju that is destroying Seoul. In a clip from the film, we are introduced to our main characters, as they talk about how Gloria spilled her guts on Oscar when she was plastered the night before.
Writer/director Nacho Vigalondo, who started his career in Spain, is known for character-driven, bizarre films with sci-fi undertones. His feature film Time crimes was about how a mysterious knife-wielding time traveler affects the shaky marriage of a couple whose unraveling relationship parallels our gradual realization that we’re looking at a time loop. Cerebral and dark, the film was praised for some of the same themes that Vigalondo tackles colossal: the connection between everyday personal problems and shocking, supernatural events.
colossal joins a host of other recent kaiju movies that pair wimpy millennials’ shaggy dog tales with gargantuan monsters. Both Clover field and its continuation Klaverveldlaan 10 have progatonists straight out of the central casting of the “aimless youngster”. The heroes of the fantastic Korean kaiju movie The host are a bumbling family of dorks, and even the paramilitary Jaeger pilots Pacific edge deal with daddy issues. And the first film from former indie director Gareth Edwards (Godzilla, Rogue One), Samplesis about a disgruntled war photographer who must get a spoiled rich tourist out of Mexico when giant, glowing jellyfish monsters attack.
It’s fascinating to contrast these second-wave kaiju movies with those that terrified audiences in the mid-20th century. Whether it was Godzilla in Japan, or giant ant epic Them in the United States, the focus was on a relationship between megabeasts and the military-industrial complex. Chambers of serious scientists and generals calculated exactly how to defeat the Big Bads. Today, filmmakers seem more interested in how ordinary people would handle a kaiju crisis.
Viewed in another way, the audience views kaiju in the context of new metaphors. While 20th century giant monsters have almost always been symbols of the dangers of atoms, 21st century monsters often represent the fear of terrorism and climate change. Consider how Clover field called up New York after 9/11, and The host‘s monster is spawned by pollution of the ocean. Samples also had a political message – it takes place in the shadow of a great wall built between the US and Mexico, and the monsters are fueled by gunfights between rebels and the government.
Second-wave kaiju films mix the chaotic threats of globalization with personal chaos in the lives of ordinary people. Perhaps this combination strikes a chord with audiences dealing with a world much more destroyed and economically divided than that of their parents.
colossal does not yet have a release date in the US