My Genre-Film Love Shakes The Earth When It Stomps, The Coming of ‘Colossal’

By  · Published on March 30th, 2017

My Genre Film Love Shakes The Earth When It Stomps, The Coming of ‘Colossal’

We’re talking Nacho Vigalondo and his out-of-this-world genre filmmaking.

It’s easy to take for granted the idea that great literature is the only medium out there accurately capturing time, place, and people. Or, that the Great [Insert Your Country] Novel is the only thing studying what humanity is made of in your neck of the woods. And, because of that, movies frequently don’t deserve the same level of consideration. Balderdash. My counter-argument? Basically, Hamlet is a movie, innit? Argument settled.

I kid. It is really easy to see movies as a fun diversion instead of a substantive exploration of humanity. Don’t get me wrong, I know we take our dramas fairly seriously. But, I think folks tend to experience the emotional wash of a movie and then allow it to roll away like the tide going out as the credits run. Genre movies, especially playful ones, get that on the regular. For whatever reason, people look at a movie like Shaun of the Dead and see a fun zombie horror comedy first instead of a marvelously layered examination of what it is like to transition into functional adulthood.

Genres – and all the definitions, tropes, and story types that go along with them – give risk-taking directors a chance to blend their own style out of this mash of cultural shards. Break a dozen different containers and scatter their contents. Assess the field of battle. Assemble the pieces that work for what you are feeling as a creator. It’s like a sort of filmmaking version of kintsugi, the Japanese art of reassembling broken pottery with a lacquer and gold dusting and using non-matching pieces to fill in gaps. The films I tend to dig use that to highlight nuanced character work or layer messaging for effect. If I’ve learned anything from Nacho Vigalondo’s work, it’s that the man uses spectacular settings to create room for us to explore his terrifically human characters.

Next week, his new film Colossal makes a limited debut and then expands to wider release the following week. I have had the pleasure of seeing this beauty. I’m here to say that you need to see this thing. Let’s get into part of his filmography for a minute and talk about (with no spoilers) what should really excite you about Colossal. Given that his first two films were made in Spain, there’s a good chance I’m about to turn you on to some films you haven’t seen that you’re really going to dig.

Timecrimes is operating in a world where a major company has invested in and begun testing a time machine. However, rather than tell the story of the corporation and the workers testing the machine, Vigalondo chooses to tell a story about a recently-retired, somewhat perverse man. The retiree spies a busty, topless young woman in the woods and proceeds to spy on her. He loses sight of her and frantically searches for her. When he finds her, unconscious, in the woods he is assualted by a man whose entire head is covered in pink bandages. Fleeing the scene, he winds up in the facility testing the time machine and is sent back to the beginning of this encounter. It gets weird.

“Something I really don’t like about modern films is that most of the time movies live up to the expectations of the audience. Movies seem to be what they really are and instead of playing with your expectations, they play to your expectations.” – Nacho Vigalondo, Filmmaker Magazine Interview

That’s totally evident in Timecrimes. Where you would think this movie would descend into your average sci-fi time travel settings, it goes another direction. That’s kind of what made Back To The Future so great. They made a coming of age story where a young man literally has to help his parents grow out of their highschool ways and figure out who they really want to be. Vigalondo’s flick is about being seduced by curiousity and the thrill of watching and, really, the damage that sort of impulsiveness can do. He uses the time travel trope to add layer upon layer to his busy-body and ultimately it provides both the crucible and the catharsis for the guilt he’s forced to experience. It is one of the freshest time travel movies around. It’s streaming on Shudder right now.

Extraterrestrial is basically set in a world like Arrival. Alien ships suddenly arrive and hover over major parts of the world. However, our main characters aren’t able to catch this monumental event because they were busy boozing it up and shagging the night away. We don’t stay with the scientific team investigating the aliens or the military hero and computer science engineer teaming up to destroy the mother ship. We start, middle and pretty much finish in an apartment based rom-com. He’s stuck at her place. The boyfriend shows up. The story literally becomes farcical. Just what the hell is going on with that next door neighbor? And, is one of these people an alien?

Extraterrestrial may be set in a world where aliens have arrived, but it’s about the lies and paranoia we engage in on a regular basis and how that complicates and damages our lives. As Vigalondo explores this very human vein, he playfully brings in relationship vengeance, farcical fun, and a pretty terrifying burst of McCarthyism. Are you the alien menace? J’accuse! It’s loads of fun and one I don’t hear people talking about enough.

If you haven’t seen these movies, I highly suggest you find some time to give them a look. One of them is effectively already a cult favorite and the other should be. He’s so creative in the way he brings these disparate elements together to make something totally invigorating. So, Colossal is his movie set in a world suddenly beset by kaiju. But, instead of showing us the government plan of action to take it down — like Shin Godzillaor the plan to go beat the holy hell out of it with giant mechanized robots – like Pacific Rim – we get the story of a dysfunctional alcoholic with no sense of the damage she does to others or herself and a complete inability to relate positively with the world around her.

Check out the trailer, there’s nothing spoilery about it. Go support this movie when it comes out. We need more Vigalondo joints in the world.

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Writer for Film School Rejects. He currently lives in Virginia, where he is very proud of his three kids, wife, and projector. Co-Dork on the In The Mouth of Dorkness podcast.