More than a monster film, Colossal is uncomfortably honest about abuse

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Apr 10, 2017, 3:00 PM EDT

Gloria is a trainwreck. Instead of finding a job, the unemployed "Internet writer" spends her nights, and days, partying while her live-in boyfriend Tim does adult things like go to work, pay bills and worry about his MIA girlfriend who's just pulled another all-nighter. So Tim, feeling that Gloria has given him no other choice, breaks up with her and tells her to move out, hoping that she will use the time and space to get her life back on track. It sends Gloria reeling, and eventually back to her childhood home, where there's literally nothing -- not even furniture -- to distract her from getting it together.

It doesn't take long until she runs into her old school mate, Oscar, and falls into a low-maintenance routine of working as a cocktail waitress at Oscar's bar and hanging out drinking beers until the sun comes up. Like most ambitious people who find themselves grappling with failure, Gloria finds solace in the simpler and slower-paced life of her suburban hometown. It's the perfect antidote to the competitive and frenetic one she's accustomed to in the city. She's decompressing, but more importantly, she's avoiding the stress that may or may not have contributed to her binge-drinking and break-up. There are happy childhood memories, like the kitschy country-Western backroom at the bar Oscar inherited from his dad that Gloria insists they fix-up and put back in use. Unfortunately for every forgotten happy memory, there's a dark one lurking buried in the corner, and Gloria starts to slowly uncover a lot more than the dusty tables in an unused room.

First, she uncovers the monster. More specifically, her monster, which has shown up in Seoul, Korea after 20 years. As she slowly starts to draw the connection between the monster, herself, and their history, she finds that Oscar has a secret monster, too, and his is fueled by something much darker than her own.

Colossal is a sci-fi film unlike anything else I've ever seen. What started as an ode to Kaiju films became so much more. Nacho Vigalondo created an honest depiction of addiction and abuse, the two often going hand in hand, that is aptly told through a monster movie. The metaphor itself is pretty obvious; Gloria and Oscar both control monsters that are essentially their own inner demons that wreak havoc on everyone who comes into contact with them. But it's what happens in the moments between the discovery and appearances of their alter-egos that provide the most uncomfortably honest commentary about abuse and addiction.

Shortly after Gloria reconnects with Oscar, he helps her out by giving her a futon for her unfurnished house and a part time job. A seemingly innocuous offer that, on the surface, was nothing more than an old friend helping out a friend when they seemed to need it the most. But as generous a gesture that seemed, one can't help but question the motive and hesitate to see Oliver (Jason Sudeikis) as a good guy or genuine friend to Gloria (Anne Hathaway). It’s easy to dismiss those suspicions as little more than paranoia, but it wasn’t long until one gift was followed by others, as were the growing number of micro-aggressions until both were too over the top and obvious to dismiss or accept.

Micro-aggressions are arguably one of the more sinister and harmful forms of psychological abuse, partly because, as their name implies, they're delivered in such quick and minor ways that they can be almost indistinguishable from small talk. But these off-color or back-handed comments and actions serve a distinct purpose: to demean the person they're being made towards. Oscar does this early on after introducing his friends Joel and Garth to Gloria, implying Garth is a rambling drunk and being generally dismissive to Joel by not even introducing him to Gloria, despite them all hanging out for the rest of the day.

The audience is led down a slow and unexpected path with Oscar, and unless you've experienced his behavior firsthand, it's easy to miss much of it until it's escalated to the extreme. The journey of the audience in and of itself is another truth about psychological abuse: it's invisible, often undetected even in plain sight, except for by those who have been victim to it.

It's established early on that Gloria is a bit of a mess. She's unemployed and seems to put more effort into partying than finding a job. Her boyfriend, a responsible adult who has a job and is at his wits end with his feckless, inconsiderate girlfriend, pulls the plug on their relationship. She's hit rock bottom, and he can't be an enabler anymore. However, we later learn that the perfect boyfriend isn't so great a guy after all. He's controlling to the point of stalking, showing up unannounced in her hometown, demanding to know what she's doing and quickly berating her when he doesn't approve of her current choices. Gloria's demeanor instantly goes from a woman getting her independence and life back to a human punching bag. It's a pattern that many victims of childhood bullying and/or abuse follow: you seek out what you know, and are destined to end up in and repeat the same relationships over and over in some form. Eventually, either the cycle breaks or you do.

Colossal doesn't just explore how we grapple with abuse on a personal level; it also demonstrates the way we as a society deal with it on a much bigger scale. For anyone who exists on social media or the Internet, trolling has become so commonplace that being trolled is practically the unofficial initiation to one's cyber existence. And for those who do troll others, it's easy for them to shrug off the behavior as a game, or even feel little to no remorse about the effect, especially since there are rarely any real-life repercussions. A troll operates behind anonymity and a screen, at a seemingly 'safe' distance that makes it difficult to track them down and even more difficult for them to see the damage of their words. Their victims are faceless and dehumanized, as they only exist in the digital form in cyberspace.

Meanwhile, onlookers cheer on one of the participants, either piling on the target or the assailant with their own comments, 'likes' or retweets, each of them as blissfully unaware and disconnected to whatever feelings and potential trauma (if any) the real people on the other end are experiencing, much like the sounds of people safely in homes and bars cheering at screens watching the two monsters in Seoul.

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