You have to feel sorry for the marketing department whose job it is to sell Colossal, which combines elements of romantic comedy, twisted psychodrama and monster movie. There can’t logically be much overlap between fans of The Philadelphia Story, Fatal Attraction and Godzilla. Adventurous audiences, though, are in for a treat.
It’s unusual to come across a film in which it is impossible to predict the outcome of each scene, or the agenda of each character, but from the moment Gloria (Anne Hathaway) is kicked out of her boyfriend’s apartment for being drunk and jobless, there’s no telling where this one might be going. Gloria, however, is going home – back to the tumbleweed town where she grew up. She bumps into an old school pal, Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), who gives her a job at his local bar, and it seems she may get her life back on track if she can stay off the bottle.
Then disaster strikes. A gigantic reptilian monster materialises in Seoul and starts stomping on cars and knocking down skyscrapers like ninepins. What all this has to do with Gloria is not immediately apparent. She has never even been to Seoul. And just because both she and the rampaging creature have the Stan Laurel-ish habit of scratching the top of their head in a quizzical manner doesn’t mean they’re related.
The Spanish writer-director Nacho Vigalondo is in complete control of his material as he moves between apparently incompatible genres, as well as up and down the emotional register. Much of the film’s power lies in skilful misdirection. All the signs suggest that Gloria will progress from addiction to redemption, a journey familiar to Hathaway from Rachel Getting Married, but that’s only a sliver of the story. On an intimate level, it’s about the malignant consequences of poor self-image, though it could also be argued that it’s a satire about how the rest of the world always has to pay for America’s dysfunctional behaviour.
If the eventual explanation for the bizarre goings-on raises more questions than it answers, the rest of this satisfyingly strange film easily compensates. Hathaway and Sudeikis work boldly against type and the monster itself is oddly beautiful, especially in one poetic shot where it is camouflaged among autumnal trees. Colossal is surprising from minute to minute but it amounts to more than the sum of our gasps.
The fantasy-related oddness continues in Spaceship, a psychedelic curiosity that introduces aliens to Aldershot. The teenage Lucidia (Alexa Davies) is busy watching the skies as her archaeologist father (Antti Reini) digs in the forest. Inspired by the memory of her late mother, who used to be heard giving directions to aliens in her sleep, the girl fakes her own abduction by UFO – a shoestring spectacle, staged using smoke and coloured lights. It’s tempting to wonder why she went to all that bother when there is more than enough exoticism in her own backyard. The fetching, blue-haired Alice (Tallulah Haddon) drags her bleach-blond boyfriend around on a leash, and Lucidia’s own beau, Luke (the Ben Whishaw-like Lucian Charles Collier), dances an electrified slow-motion ballet in his head while his body has an epileptic fit in an empty swimming pool. It’s that sort of film.
For these kids, the possibility of extraterrestrial abduction becomes a means of coping with earthbound trauma, as it was in Gregg Araki’s Mysterious Skin. It is a testament to the first-time director Alex Taylor’s investment in this idea – as well as his Kenneth Anger-with-glow-paint visual style – that the scrapbook approach hangs together. The dialogue is authentic teenage poppycock. “I saw my life flash forward,” Luke says after witnessing Lucidia’s kidnapping. “I’m gonna be a famous shoe designer!”
And the performances are thrillingly uninhibited; don’t be surprised if the careers of several future stars are traced back to this film. The soundtrack is a pleasing jumble of earthy folk and throbbing electronica, with East India Youth’s euphoric “Heaven, How Long” playing a vital part in helping Spaceship achieve final lift-off.
This article appears in the 17 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Age of Lies