Horror is evolving as a genre. Although your local multiplex is still loaded with the usual contenders, look a bit closer and you’ll find the latest drama, thriller, or crime offering is closer to horror than you might expect. In this bi-weekly series, Joey Keogh presents a film not generally classified as horror and argues why it exhibits the qualities of a great flight flick, and therefore deserves the attention of fans as an example of Not Quite Horror. This week, it’s Colossal.
Horror comes in many forms. In Colossal, a nifty little sci-fi/rom-com hybrid from Nacho Vigalondo (Timecrimes, Open Windows), ostensibly we’re supposed to fear the giant Kaiju laying waste to Seoul. But the real fear comes not with the introduction of an actual monster, but from Jason Sudeikis’ hideous Nice Guy™ Oscar, who terrorises more effectively (primarily our anti-heroine, Gloria) than the scaly beast on the other side of the world.
Essentially playing somebody most women will have come into contact with at some point in their lives (likely more than once), Sudeikis imbues Oscar with the smarmy charm only associated with those men who feel life at large, and women in particular, owe them something. He starts off the movie being super nice to Gloria, offering her a job, furniture and friends, consoling her about her bad life choices and generally being there for her.
However, when Gloria shows interest in another man, Oscar turns. Likewise, when she starts getting attention for her connection to the monster, Oscar’s jealousy leads him to take drastic measures in order to ensure the spotlight remains on him. The result is, weirdly, a fairly accurate portrayal of the abusive dynamic many women will find themselves a part of, where a man demands more because he feels like he deserves it. With monsters and giant robots.
In the flick’s most horrifying moment, Oscar flat-out tells Gloria he’s done “being Mr. Nice Guy”, threatening to cause more destruction if she doesn’t continue to be a part of his life before knocking her to the ground and cheerily telling her he’ll see her at work the next day. It’s a fascinating display of the power struggle that exists in many boy-girl friendships, where one party, frustrated at the other’s inability to mirror their own feelings, lashes out.
Colossal doesn’t present Gloria as a saint, but Vigalondo (who also wrote the script, the story reportedly conceived in Spanish initially) ensures that we understand she’s not to blame for Oscar’s increasingly erratic behaviour, either. Watch as he tries to make up for hurting her by showering her with yet more gifts, the same way an abusive partner would try to soften the blow of a previous night’s fighting by acting as though he is sorry by way of presents.
Oscar and Gloria eventually do battle proper, but he’s not shown literally beating her up, lest the overarching metaphor become too heavy-handed. Likewise, she doesn’t defeat him by conventional means (nothing about this movie is conventional, to be fair). Rather, it’s only when Gloria realises the truth about Oscar, that his worrying behavioural pattern comes from his own deep-seated self-hatred, she can begin to properly stand up to him.
Colossal is not a horror movie, in spite of the giant Kaiju at the heart of it, and Vigalondo isn’t looking to use big-monster scares to wrong-foot us, a la Kong: Skull Island. Rather, its Not Quite Horror credentials lie in Sudeikis’ character, and his performance as same, which is impressively unhinged yet suitably subtle. As the film begins, it’s not clear how honourable his intentions are. And when he does blow up, it lands harder because we’re still not quite sure.
Oscar will be familiar to any woman who’s had to deal with an over-eager male friend whose feelings were deemed more important than hers, and who was made to feel mean or unkind as a result of rejecting his advances. In the end, Colossal comes down to protecting more lives than just Gloria’s, but its message is clear: just because you’re acting like a Nice Guy doesn’t mean you actually are one.
Or that you deserve anything a woman doesn’t want to give you as a result.