In the past few years, Spain has been producing some of the most innovative horror films, as seen by the likes of J.A Bayonna, but also by Nacho Vigalondo, whose low-budget genre films Timecrimes and Extraterrestrial have been frequently cited as the best horror films of the past decade.
Vigalondo’s latest film is called Colossal, and as you might suspect, it’s his take on the giant monster (or Kaiju) movie, only this one takes an interesting twist because the giant monster terrorizing Seoul, South Korea seems to be controlled by a troubled party girl named Gloria, played by Anne Hathaway. After being booted from their NYC apartment by her boyfriend, Gloria goes back to her small town to live in her parents’ house where she re-encounters her childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis). Accepting a job in Oscar’s bar, Gloria starts hanging out with Oscar and his drinking buddies (Tim Blake Nelson, Austin Stowell) but soon realizes that her drunken antics are being replicated by a giant monster that’s shown up in Seoul.
Where things go from that strange premise, well you’ll have to see the movie to find out, but you can check out the trailer below to get some sense of the film’s odd mix of genres and tones:
LRM had a chance to sit down with Vigalondo at the New York press day for his film. Mind you, Nacho is a fantastic filmmaker and very lively when talking about his work, but his English still isn’t great, so we did the best we could to properly represent his responses in the following interview:
LRM: With your previous three movies, you’ve put a twist on genre, so what got you interested in doing something involving Kaiju and monster movies?
Nacho Vigalondo: I have to be humble this way, because I just perceived myself as a low-budget filmmaker. This is something that is probably close to my identity. I don’t know if I ever got to lose it. It really feels like I’m making small films. Even though I make bigger films--they keep being small--and that’s because every time that these genres come to my mind...like I want to make a Kaiju film, I’d love to make an animated film and I’d love to make a zombie film, but I always come with this twist that makes those kinds of films affordable to me. There’s a really humble starting point for these kinds of formulas that I come with. When I wrote Colossal, I wanted to make a movie that I was able to direct. I didn’t want to make a comment on Kaiju eiga (i.e. monster movies), I didn’t want to make a satire on those films. I didn’t want to be the smartest guy in the room with these films, I just wanted to make a Kaiju film, I wanted to make another one of those. When I wrote the film initially, I just tried to be realistic and make something that I could make with a small budget. Later, other characters come and the story becomes something that has a distinguishing thematic interest, let’s say that, but at the beginning of the road, I’m just a humble fan of those films trying to make another one.
LRM: I like the fact that you explain where these Kaiju comes from. Most of the time, they’re just blamed on nuclear waste as they come out of the ocean. That’s the mainstay, but this one has a story that takes some time to get to, so how did you get from wanting to make a Kaiju monster movie into making a human character story that happens to have monsters in it?
Nacho Vigalondo: When I had a chance to be a teacher at film school--which is something that I actually love--and I was talking about making short films and people started to think about what to do, I was always saying to embrace your limitations. Don’t try to fight against your limitations. Embrace them and make them part of the show.
Okay, if you want to make a Kaiju film, but you can’t hire people to build a city to destroy, just look at what you have and try to push the importance of what you have between your hands. I can’t destroy a city the same way that you can see it in a superhero film, but I can build two characters who are related to this in this way. By focusing these characters, I could make something that maybe has the limitations that we’re talking about, probably they become the signature of the result. Okay, this is not a limitation, this is the most attractive thing, in this way. For example, we are watching the action for most of the time. When we’re watching the city be destroyed, we’re watching it through media. That way, if we push the thing, you’re making an instant comment on that, so if you’re aware of that, you can embrace that rather than fight against it. You can make a movie about a point-of-view when we perceive these kinds of disasters through the screen of a TV, or through YouTube videos. Instead of crying because you don’t have a city to destroy, you don’t have that amount of VFX to make a film, instead of crying about that, just enjoy the fact that you’re using this specific point-of-view that can be meaningful in other ways.
LRM: Was there any temptation to do the Kaiju as people in suits like they used to do back in the day?
Nacho Vigalondo: I’d love to, I’d love to, but you know, initially, the first time I talked about this film, it was during a Q n A at a British festival called FrightFest, and I talked about this film. I was just writing the movie in those days. I told them that it was going to bring back the puppets in action, and that I was going to be inside the puppet. I wanted to be in there. That was my dream while I was writing the script, but later, when you see the budget required to make that in a realistic way, because I wanted it to feel real. I didn’t want it to feel kitsch, because if you make it in a kitsch way, then you’re being sarcastic, then you’re being cynical to the initial films. Then you’re trying to mock those films. I honestly wanted to make a movie that could feel part of the contemporary monster movies. I realized that if I wanted to play that with puppets and get photo-realistic result, I would need a budget that wasn’t available to me at the moment. We went CGI, but I am really happy with how it works.
LRM: Do you have a small town experience or are you from a small town originally? I feel that the characters you created really fit that mold, especially the characters around Gloria, who seem like typical Midwester suburban guys.
Nacho Vigalondo: I’m a small town guy. Let’s just say that the place where I’m from is not that different from the Midwest. Of course, the way I wrote the movie, it could happen in Spain, but when you’re working in the United States with American actors, they’re pulling stuff from themselves. If they read the part and get the situation and you’re leaving the actors to breathe on the screen--because I think that’s something important. I’m not making a film. We’re making a film, and movies are like that because of the combination of different talents. It’s something you have to understand as a filmmaker pretty early that you’re not making the film, you’re just allowing people to make the movie wit you. Once the actors are able to breathe on camera, they’re adding something from themselves, so if the movie feels like I’ve been living in that small town for the last fifty years, it’s just because I’m putting my experience next to their experience.
LRM: How did you end up with Anne and Jason? I think when people found out that Anne was making a movie with you, we immediately thought you were making a bigger $100 million budget movie because she’s such a huge star. How did you end up with the two of them?
Nacho Vigalondo: There’s something I always say when this question is made: I wish I was able to tell you a story when I just dressed as King Kong, and I just knocked on Anne Hathaway’s door with the script and a specific dance that I created just for her to be hypnotized by me.
LRM: That’s a great story. You should stick to that one.
Nacho Vigalondo: I wish that I could stick to that great story, but the thing is that everything went through the normal process of her agent giving this to her in a moment when she was looking for this kind of stuff. That’s something she said at Toronto on stage. She saw the splendid Ben Wheatley film, A Field in England, and she told her agent, “I think it’s time for me to approach this kind of film. It’s something more risky, with a different interest for specific audiences.” At that moment, I had just finished Colossal and I just put it on the table. That happened at the same time, so I was that lucky, open to assume that I will never be this lucky in my life. I don’t know if you have an expression for this, but a “slam dunk” is a small expression compared to it. That is not enough.
LRM: Well, now other actors will go, “Oh, he worked with Anne Hathaway, so I should work with this guy.”
Nacho Vigalondo: I’m open to that.
LRM: That’s kind of how it works in this business. This movie has an interesting tone, which may be difficult for some. I went in expecting more of a comedy or more humor, and it gets very dark. It has moments where it’s very, very funny, but then it gets very serious. How is it playing with that tone while working with the actors?
Nacho Vigalondo: I don’t know. Once you write the script and you are swimming into the whole thing, you love it. It’s like, “This is amazing. People will laugh here. People will be discouraged here. This character is charming here but he will become a terrifying guy, and at the end, everything will make sense because of this or that.” When you write the script, you believe in the whole thing. Later, something happens when you’re making the film, because when you’re making the film, all the different elements that will become part of the film, they’re really separated in different directions. You don’t see it anymore as a whole. You’re working every day on a different sequence, and you’re working on different aspects of the film. I have to confess something: While you’re making the film, you are terrified, because one day I shot this scene of Jason Sudeikis, which he’s openly terrifying. He has the most scary moment come from him, and that moment is just the opposite of fun, and he’s actually cruel and he’s violent for real. It’s difficult to watch and difficult to shoot.
Probably one day before or even that morning, you shot this funny moment, so when you’re in the process and everything is just in pieces around, you are so terrified, because right then, it doesn’t make sense. How am I going to be able to put together this horrible thing next to that funny joke, and next to this comment on domestic abuse next to this science fiction bullsh*t, next to this fuzzy CGI thing, next to this depressing thought? All you have is a leap of faith. It’s like, “Okay, everything will make sense, because a long time ago, it made sense in the script.” I hope all these difference pieces, I hope they make sense later at the end of the road. I hope. That’s the way you can make things work, because when you’re making a movie, the first thing you lose is perspective on what you’re doing.
LRM: I used to make records and that’s almost the same thing. You spend so much time working on individual songs...
Nacho Vigalondo: Yeah, you know, you’re working different layers.
LRM: When you started this, did you think the movie would be funnier than it actually ended up being, or were there things you realized were funnier when you saw it with an audience by how they reacted? “Oh, that’s funnier than I meant it to be.”
Nacho Vigalondo: Oh, yeah. Last night, there was the craziest audience, because they were laughing so many times. There even some laughs that were kind of intriguing, because there was something really uncomfortable on the screen. Laughs are always like a gift to me. So far, I’m happy with the reactions. I’m happy with the biggest laugh in the film, which is always the same, the “thug life” moment. I’ happy because that’s the biggest laugh and that marks the ending of all the good, fun things. It’s fine to reach that moment, that laugh, because now we’re going to step into different territory, but they have to see that laugh at the end. I need people to laugh again at the end, because at the end of the day, this is not a drama, this is not a comment on real life. This is not a comment on actual events, this is a fantasy. I think that every fantasy deserves a chance not to be taken seriously.
LRM: Fair enough. Any idea what you want to do next? I assume you have this bucket of ideas you dip into, and you finished this movie last year. Have you started thinking about what’s next?
Nacho Vigalondo: I’m just writing something. In the meantime, of course, I’m getting suggestions from my agents.
LRM: You must get a lot of scripts from the studios wanting you to do something with them.
Nacho Vigalondo: I love reading stuff from the outside and the stuff coming from writers. One of the projects I’m handling is a brilliant thing this write made. It’s really difficult for me to fall in love with stuff coming from the outside, but when I fall in love, I deeply fall in love. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m also writing something all the time. It keeps things in movement, because I’m terrified when I go to bed and I see that I didn’t anything productive for the whole day.
LRM: Believe me. Everyone has that same thought.
Nacho Vigalondo: Oh, yeah, yeah, but I just love to have an open script all the time, so if all the other projects fail, I will have to try it with my own stuff, but I don’t want to be a slave to my own stuff over my life.
LRM: Well, you have been doing these great short films as part of “V/H/S” and “The ABCs of Death,” so you’re finding a way to keep busy in between features.
Nacho Vigalondo: Oh, doing these short films is something that I enjoy so much.
LRM: It’s also nice you’ve found a place for these short films, because a lot of filmmakers make short films but there’s not a lot of places to see them besides festivals.
Nacho Vigalondo: I’m always open to working on anthologies. If it didn’t happen as much, it’s because sometimes life and schedule doesn’t fit, but I’m always open to working on one of those films. I have ideas for short films that are just there waiting for something to happen and more than happy to develop something.
Colossal opens in select cities on Friday, and then threatens the rest of the country on April 14.