Review: Colossal – A monstrously strange look at everday addiction

Anne Hathaway shines in this bizarre mash-up about a young alcoholic and her city-crushing kaiju alter ego

An early warning sign for problem drinking is waking up and remembering things you’d done you wish you hadn’t. Here’s a new addition to the familiar regrets: trashing an entire section of downtown Seoul underfoot. As drunken misdeeds go, it’s a tad more cataclysmic than a 3am text to your ex.

Still, such is the burden poor Gloria, the hard-drinking young woman (played by Anne Hathaway) at the centre of Colossal, must bear. The premise of this film, from Spanish director Nacho Vigalondo, is a real head-scratcher. Having been dumped by her nice-guy boyfriend for her boozy ways, New York resident Gloria returns to her drab home-town in the sticks. There she starts work at the bar owned by an old friend: not the greatest choice of employ for a woman quickly succumbing to alcoholism.

So far, so worthy. And yet interrupting these scenes of everyday addiction – which see Gloria reconnect with childhood friend and bar-owner Oscar (Jason Sudeikis) and his after-hours buddies – are frenzied news reports from South Korea. A giant, dark-green monster higher than a skyscraper has emerged over a number of days to lay waste to the capital, before vanishing again into the night sky. The city is in lockdown. Scores are dead. The military are primed to attack.

By a miracle of deductive reasoning – the flash of inspiration gifted those only in the grip of an evil hangover – Gloria comes to understand that she and this monster are inextricably linked. By entering a children’s playpark at a certain hour, she is able to cause this creature to come into being on the other side of the world.

Her gestures are exactly mimicked by the monster, only on a gargantuan scale. She falls down in a drunken blackout, wiping out hundreds of innocent civilians in Seoul. Or, sober, she pulls some fancy dance moves, and in South Korea her giant scaly avatar goes through the same motions, to the delight of the crowd who had been expecting to be trampled underfoot.

Ordinarily I’d commend such dedication in the pursuit of cinematic weirdness – but this curiosity feels frustratingly misshapen. The questions it raises are not so much provocations but loose threads.

Gloria’s upset for a bit that her drunken escapades have inadvertently left countless dead in a city on the other side of the globe.

It didn’t matter to me, for instance, that the plot never provides a reason for Gloria’s connection to South Korea, just as we never really find out why there is a portal to the eponymous actor’s head in Being John Malkovich. But Colossal doesn’t fully explore the consequence of her link to the monster. Gloria’s upset for a bit that her drunken escapades have inadvertently left countless dead in a city on the other side of the globe. And once she realises that Oscar is able to make a giant robot materialise alongside her monster she is determined to stop him inflict further carnage. But mostly events in South Korea take second place to Gloria getting sober and extricating herself from the increasingly leery attention of Oscar.

Perhaps Vigalondo is making some kind of comment about the attitude Hollywood monster movies have towards casualties in non-US cities but a low-key, earnest character study of a young alcoholic seems an odd forum for this critique – because for all its extravagant CGI sequences and showy conceptual leaps in narrative logic, Colossal is a low-key, earnest character study of a young alcoholic. It’s watchable enough though, and Hathaway is terrific. Forget that rampaging CGI giant – her performance is the film’s most special effect.

Colossal is in cinemas from May 19