Occasionally a movie is released that cannot be easily classified into a specific, traditional genre. While combinations of several categories are commonplace encountering something new is rather rare. Most recently such a movie came around that juxtaposed types of storylines that most would never have considered, a notable example is something completely unexpected, a Kaiju Romance/revenge drama. All too frequently when a filmmaker attempts to combine unusual genres, the results are a mass confusion of tropes and archetypes lacking in originality. Fortunately, director/screenwriter Nacho Vigalondo was able to achieve the surprising, a highly entertaining, original premise well executed and Impeccably paced. With the sheer amount new movies and television shows pumped out on a regular basis, it is reassuring to come across something presenting a novel twist on old stereotypes, crafting something fun to experience. The Kaiju genre is one of the original creature features that served as the foundation for ‘Japanese horror and science fiction. For most people, their first exposure to the genre is the Godzilla franchise. Several fundamental aspects of the story are highly reminiscent of a classic ‘Twilight Zone’ or perhaps the ‘Outer Limits.’ Beneath the highly entertaining story is a morality play expertly entwined in the enjoyable proceedings. A story of this kind is not one intended for the widest possible audience. One of the most attractive features of science fiction is how a story can be designed for a niche demographic yet still appeal to a general audience. It might require a couple of viewings to appreciate the deeper layers to ponder fully. As with the two anthologies series cited above, the Sci-Fi fan most likely to garner the from this tale is those that can appreciate the social commentary, particularly when present with a sufficiently adept touch of a filmmaker capable of understanding the genre fan.
Gloria (Anne Hathaway) woman in her thirties whose life is an absolute mess. For Gloria each night is spent drinking to excess with her friends until she stumbles back home to sleep off the approaching hangover. The apartment where Gloria passes out belongs to her long-suffering boyfriend, Tim (Dan Stevens). On the night that marks the opening of the story, an argument reignites between Gloria and Mark. Tim loves Gloria, but he can no longer stand by watching as she wastes her life, take advantage of him and continue to spiral down to the unavoidable bottom. Frustrated beyond and other means to express, Tim finally reached his limit and tells her she must leave, the scene shifts, and Gloria is left without options, forced to return to her childhood home in New England. Conveniently. The old family home is empty and the house key still on the welcome mat. As she begins to the new living arrangements, it is evident that the house is currently unfurnished. Gloria goes to town to purchase an air mattress, lugging the oversized box back home. Along the way, she encounters a friend from back in grade school, Oscar (Jason Sudeikis). The renewal of the friendship goes well, and they go back to a bar, it happens that the establishment had been owned by his father with Oscar now managing it. It had been a country western bar, but Oscar has refurbished it with an upscale theme. The remains of the country motif are walled off from the main area of the bar. Gloria and Oscar continue to talk throughout the night accumulating a considerable collection of empty beer bottles. When Tim was forced to ask Gloria to leave, she swore to change from the irresponsible party girl stumbling home each morning. Her road to a new lifestyle was considerably shorter than even Tim had imagined. A first full day back home and Gloria is severely hung-over stumbling through a playground as behind her children are going to school. Gloria tosses the odd shaped, heavy bag over her shoulder trundling home. The box contained an air mattress which takes an inordinate amount of time to inflate. Unfortunately, it had a hole and deflated overnight leaving her once again on the hard floor. With Oscar’s help, a futon and television are delivered by another drinking buddy from the bar, Joel (Austin Stowell), a young man Gloria’s age.
One morning after waking up after her typical night of heavy drinking, Gloria glances at the television, a very unusual report caught her attention. On the other side of the world, Seoul, South Korea, a giant, the reptilian monster was shown crashing through the streets leaving a trail of death and destruction. She notices the creature manifests mannerisms peculiar to her such as scratching her head in a specific way. She realizes that when she lumbers through the playground at 8:05 AM the creature appears in Seoul mimicking her movements. Gloria confides in Oscar and his friends taking them to the playground at the requisite time. Watch a live broadcast the monster appears moving the same way as she does as demonstrate the confusion of the Korean people by making the creature awkwardly dance. When Oscar steps into the area, suddenly a giant robot appears next to the creature. That robot is connected to Oscar the same way as the creature is to Gloria. Convinced beyond any doubt, Oscar offers to help. They go to a friend of his who owns a Korean barbecue place. He writes out in Korean, "I'm sorry. It was a mistake." This delights the public watching turning the creature into a folk hero of sorts.
What Kaiju movies typically lack a truly significant dramatic turning point. They almost always have some crucial scene that forces the transition in temperament and character development into the next act of the story. What is missing is a sense of emotional gravitas, a substantial event that reaches out to form a strong bond with the audience. The way in which this is expressed in this film transports they quality of the story to an entirely higher level. It was obvious that there was chemistry between Gloria and Oscar but not in the romantic sense desired by Oscar. One-night Gloria was hanging out with Joel. The two of them were growing closer so it seemed natural that they would wind up sleeping with him. Oscar realizes that Gloria has placed him in the ‘friend zone’ and that Joel seems to g=have won her favor. Drunk. Oscar returns to the playground the next morning, manifests the robot and uses it to terrorize the innocent people of the city. This provides a well-crafted transition to the next act as well preparing the stage for the grand conclusion. There is a depth to the emotional component of the narrative that is exceedingly rare for the genre. The progression of the characters as they undergo an emotional developmental arc reveals psychological insight into them that allows the audience to accept them as fully formed and realistic characters. This formed bonds with the audience pulling them inexorably into caring about them.
Admittedly, the final act did take me by surprise. Not so much as far as the details of the ultimate resolution but in the emotional release as expressed by Ms. Hathaway. Kudos must be given to the costume supervisor, Antoinette Messam. Usually, such accolades are not given to this important position in the production company unless the movie was set in a different time or place than usual. Ms. Hathaway was in the second trimester of her pregnancy while filming the movie. This typically obvious condition was exceptionally well-concealed without over-reliance on the old plot contrivance of having the mother-to-be carrying a large handbag or pillow. Beside her complete surrender to the emotional and psychological plight of her character, Ms. Hathaway gives a stellar performance in what many might consider one of her lesser films. I have noticed that in recent years an increasing number of stand up and stretch comedians have been successfully transitioned to dramatic roles. Among the latest to achieve this laudable extension on their range of talent is Jason Sudeikis. His comedic breakout was undoubtedly the over 170 episodes as a regular cast member on ‘Saturday Night Live.’ After graduating that lauded experience, Mr. continued to become a popular contributor in some very successful ‘R’ rated comedy movies. To watch as he handles a character arc of such a truly impressive emotional range was an incredible experience. It provided the ideal counterpoint to the performance of Ms. Hathaway as well as providing a succinct moral justification of the final action that sums up the story.