Why It's Okay To Both Love And Hate The Movie Colossal
Sometime towards the end of March, I started hearing whispers about this movie, starring Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudakis. It was called Colossal and the only thing I knew for sure about it was that it involved kaiju (if you're unfamiliar with this genre, try any of the Godzilla franchise, and also read the wonderful story
Corporate Robo Renegade Piston in our current edition).
At the time, there wasn't even an official trailer about it, just a
clip from the movie. And the only people talking about it were hard-core film buffs. It was like they didn't want to promote it. They didn't want people to know about it. Or, I guess, in some twisted way, they were looking to test out how well word of mouth advertising works. Studios are not the most rational of creatures.
Through much digging around, I was able to find it playing at Alamo Drafthouse, where they were originally promoting it as a limited engagement (as of the end of May, it's still playing). But there was so little information out about the movie, I couldn't even find the MPAA rating -- was this PG-13? R? I had a group of younger teenagers who wanted to come and I needed to know what to expect in the way of sex and violence.
In that search, I found some early critic reviews, and on IMDb, some movie-goer reviews were starting to come in as well. For a movie that was getting great buzz from bloggers, I found the reviews, both amateur and pro, were highly mixed. People either loved it or they hated it. There were very few people in the middle.
I didn't want to stumble across any spoilers (and I promise I will give none here), so I didn't read them. Instead, I bit the bullet, took the kids, and a group of eight of us saw the movie in early April. By the time we got to the theater, there was an official trailer, a big cardboard cutout where you could take your picture with the kaiju monster, and pretty much a sold-out venue.
I was very intrigued by where this movie was going to go, because I felt like they must have given away the biggest piece of the story in the clip and the movie trailer: that Anne Hathaway's character, Gloria, somehow controls a giant monster that appears halfway around the world in Seoul -- but only when she steps onto a playground in her Midwestern hometown. I mean, where do you go from there?
Writer and Director Nacho Vigalondo has many more places to take this story, which I will not even hint at. All I will say is that it is giving nothing away to say that Gloria is controlling the monster. The way that Vigalondo leads up to that moment -- the pit of despair that Gloria starts out in as her life hits rock bottom, the way she struggles to avoid facing up to the actions and behavior that led her to rock bottom -- is brilliant, but it is really only Act I of the movie.
So why are people so split about this movie? David Farland, author of the Runelord series among many others, talks about the heart of genres as two sides of a coin. In romance, you can't have love without hate or anguish, for example -- there is always a point where either the two love interests hate each other's guts, or where they know they are perfect for each other but must live their lives apart. The story has to reach the dark side of the coin so that the main intent -- love -- is that much sweeter when the characters overcome their obstacles at the end.
In speculative fiction, the two sides of the coin are wonder and horror. In the horror genre, there is a short period of wonder before whatever it is that generates such wonder -- the alien life, the newly discovered creature, the ghosts that appear at night -- turns on the main characters and the horror begins. The scare is the payoff in the horror genre, but you can't get it without that moment of wonder to draw the contrast. In most other spec-fic genres, the wonder is the payoff. I hate to use this example because there were so many other things wrong with the movie, but Avatar (of James Cameron unfortunate-ness) at least got that part right: wonder at the world Pandora and its inhabitants, followed by horror as the awful humans come in and try to destroy everything, followed by wonder at the end as Jake is joined with Na'Vi and gets to live out the rest of his life in this beautiful world with his beautiful wife. You have to have the horror in order for the wonder payout to be sweet.
With Colossal, the issue causing so much passion among reviewers who either loved it or hated it is the contrast between horror and wonder. Is the movie a horror movie or is it science fiction/fantasy? To get the answer to the question, you just have to think back to the genre Vigalondo is exploring: kaiju. Are these "wonder" movies or are they "horror" movies? I would have to place my vote on horror. The payoff of these movies is destroying or co-opting the beast who destroyed the city. It's the direct equivalent of watching "Hulk SMASH!".
If you watch Colossal expecting a lot of wonder, a little period of horror, followed by more wonder, you're going to be disappointed. And of course, Vigalondo and the cast do such a great job of making the wonder part of this movie so fun that as a viewer you don't want to let it go. But really, this is a horror movie. The turns into darkness are done so very well, and stay true to the kaiju genre in ways I will not give away. The only fault I might have with what he did was make the wonder part too good, so that viewers might have come to expect that this would be a lighthearted little story, only to find those expectations dashed in Act II.
So if you've been looking at this movie and wondering why the reviews are so split and whether you should go see it, my answer is yes, go see it. This is an instant cult classic, with wonder that is truly wonderful, and horror that is truly horrible. If you can hold on and appreciate both of these at the same time, you will appreciate what this movie accomplishes. Go see it. Just don't expect an ending that is sunshine and roses. And know that it is totally okay to both love AND hate this movie at the same time.