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How 'Colossal' Director Nacho Vigalondo Reinvented the Monster Movie

The Spanish director gives an inside look at his latest film and talks about its surprising connections to the issues that humanity faces today.

Larry Fitzmaurice

You've seen it before: A gigantic monster appears from out of nowhere and destroys a Japanese city. But what if that monster was controlled by Anne Hathaway? That's the basic premise of Nacho Vigalondo's wonderful new film Colossal, and if you're intrigued by that question, let me just say that the film delivers and then some.

In Colossal, mid-30s writer Gloria (Hathaway) moves back home to upstate New York after her issues with drinking drive a wedge between her and her boyfriend, Tim (Dan Stevens). While she's back, she reconnects with childhood classmate Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), takes a job at his bar, and slowly discovers that there is a very literal monster lurking inside of her. To give away any more would spoil the many twists and turns that take place during the film. But I will say that Colossal is as much about character development as it is about the heady, fantastical concepts that Vigalondo established back in 2007 with his trippy film Timecrimes. Hathaway's performance as Gloria is truly empathetic, and the challenges faced by her character—substance abuse, toxic masculinity, and the eternal hurdle of getting one's shit together—are felt even as giant-size baddies duke it out in neon city skyscapes.

We talked to Vigalondo about how he came up with the film, his own personal connections to Gloria's struggle, and the state of the world at large—and if you walk away expecting a sequel, don't count on it: "The movies that I've made so far don't have room for sequels, sadly. I think I'll just start writing another film instead." Fair enough.

VICE: When and how did you come up with the idea behind Colossal? It's very unique.
Nacho Vigalondo: I started playing with this idea around 2007—I have many premises like this in the same drawer to play with. Some people were thinking that I was making this a [monster movie] satire—an ironic approach to those films. But when I started writing in my small flat in Madrid, I wanted to make a genuine monster movie. I knew that I couldn't make a movie with a big budget, so I was trying to make a monster movie that was affordable on a small budget.

I started writing the story with all these scenes that were happening in front of my eyes—on cellphones, the media, and the internet, watching these people be connected to the things that were happening in front of my eyes. The movie became something else years later when I found the characters. If you have an idea, it can be just that—you need an interesting character arc in order to turn it into something bigger. When I found the reason why Gloria and Oscar fight, this movie became something that had to be made.

The film starts out by dealing with Gloria's substance abuse, but it becomes about so much more as the film progresses.
I always recommend that people never lose innocence when they're writing. When you're writing in a state of innocence and you're not trying to be self aware, an interesting thing happens: You make something that's coming from your personal experiences, the stories around you, people that you know, and your own life. I'm from [Cabezón de la Sal], a really small town in [northern Spain], but I live in Madrid—this movie is set in Mayfair, a town north of New York City. My childhood town represents home in a big way, but at the same time, it represents failure, because if I go back home for real, it means that I made a mistake in life or things went wrong. I'm part of this generation where it's not a strange thing to have people around you who have to go back home, because life is not safe anymore—things can be surprising in the worst way possible, in terms of with the economy and things like that.

One of Colossal's themes is finding a sense of meaning when you feel adrift and lost in the world. Do you relate to that feeling personally?
I confess that I can recognize a time in my life in which I felt lost the same way that Gloria does. I was in a situation, emotionally and with work, and I was really creeping out of control. Happily, I'm feeling better, and writing fiction is the best way to do self-therapy. I mean, self-therapy is something that nobody recommends to anybody—but writing can help deal with your feelings. There are bits of me in all the characters of the film, and I know how it feels to feel like Gloria at the beginning of the film. I also know how it is to feel depressed and miserable like Oscar.

There's a scene in the film where Oscar and Gloria are watching YouTube parodies of their monsters fighting. Do you see that as a reflection on our culture?
You know something that is in the news in this day and age that is really shocking? This young woman is being judged for making jokes about the assassination of one of the guys working for Franco regime. She's gonna go to jail for one year, even though it isn't a violent crime. Her life is gonna be shaken by this. She was just making jokes—the same kind of jokes we all make every day, everywhere. But now, because she wrote those jokes on social media, suddenly the consequences are unknown. In one instant, she lost everything. There are these unknown situations and uncharted waters that we're facing today that are really scary. We are living in these times; we have to acknowledge that this is real.

When you were writing the film, did you have an idea of what Gloria's monster was going to look like?
Yeah, but I'm not an illustrator—I wish I were. I just have the talent to keep talented people around. I worked with a Spanish company, Usert38. One of the most important things for me was the monster had to feel genuine [compared] to the other monsters in the Asian tradition. I didn't want this monster to feel different—I wanted the monster to be like a genuine, big industry monster.

What were some of the influences you drew from in making Colossal ?
King Kong was a big film from my childhood. All the characters, including the gorilla, are going through this extreme emotional experience—it's not just about noise and destruction. There's a true emotional core at the center of the climax. Cloverfield is also, to me, as genuine as those Lovecraft tales in which the human character is facing something that's bigger than human. Who cares about this human being when things are so big? I get the same feeling watching Cloverfield. We're following this tiny human plot, but who cares about that when this massive thing is happening? That was a really scary and beautiful film.

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Note: Colossal is being distributed by NEON, a company affiliated with VICE.