First, give Colossal credit for the best high-low (or is it low-high?) film concept of the year so far: A monster movie in which the airplane-swatting, city-stomping terror is real, but the true beast is the one hiding at the bottom of a bottle. Anne Hathaway stars in Spanish filmmaker Nacho Vigalondo’s genre-jolting tease as Gloria, a feckless party girl whose vodka-soaked chaos finally proves too much for her live-in boyfriend (an earnest executive type played with restrained pique by Legion’s Dan Stevens).
Kicked out of her ex’s luxe Manhattan apartment and stripped of girlfriend privileges, she stumbles upstate to her parents’ abandoned bungalow to reassess and lick her wounds, which mostly involves drunk-sleeping the days away on a faulty inflatable mattress and reconnecting with her old friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), now conveniently the owner of the local dive bar. He, too, enjoys a beer: after his night shift, before breakfast, whenever.
If you’ve seen the trailer you’ll know that the sudden emergence of giant marauding reptiles half a world away in Seoul — as seen, eventually, on Gloria’s casually repossessed TV — is not a coincidence but a crucial and very connected plot point. Saying too much more might be a spoiler, but it’s also misleading: As much as Colossal owes to Asian cinema’s classic kaiju-monster battles, it’s also a shrewd funhouse-mirror subversion of all that. There will be blood, in the most abstract way, but the Oscar-nominated Vigalondo (Timecrimes, Extraterrestrial) is less interested in the literal havoc his scaly behemoths wreak on thousands of unsuspecting Koreans than the emotional wreckage of his messed-up humans back in New York. (Which is, you might say, a material issue in its own right.)
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But it’s also a lot of fun to see Hathaway — she of the eternal, unshakeable theater-kid optimism — surrender to the dark side in what might be her best, bleakest role since her raccoon-eyed turn in 2008’s Rachel Getting Married. Her Gloria is basically a walking emotional hazmat zone: toxic, peevish, perpetually self-involved. (Jason Sudeikis is no peach either). But her mess feels real, unlike the manufactured naughtiness of most big-screen bad girls. And hopefully, her star power will bring more people to a movie whose marketing isn’t exactly made easy by a plot that sounds like a fridge-magnet poetry game gone wrong. Because in its own scrappy low-budget way, it’s worth it: Even if the script’s psychological reach ultimately falls short, Colossal is still a clever, comic, wildly surreal ride — right up until the last sucker-punch frame. B+