Medium: film
Year: 2016
Writer/director: Nacho Vigalondo
Keywords: giant rampaging monster, SF
Country: Canada, USA, Spain, South Korea
Actor: Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis, Austin Stowell, Tim Blake Nelson, Dan Stevens
Format: 110 minutes
Language: English, Korean [just a tiny bit]
Website category: SF
Review date: 9 November 2017
It's a small-scale indie movie that happens to have a fifty-foot monster rampaging in Seoul. It's different, anyway. I haven't seen another movie doing what it does, anyway. I think I liked it rather than loved it, but I think it ends well.
We begin with a giant lizard in South Korea. Then, 25 years later (eh?), we're in New York watching Anne Hathaway trash her life. This has no Korean connection whatsoever and it's impossible to imagine it having anything to do with a giant lizard. Hathaway's in a rather dubious relationship with Tim (Dan Stevens). She's unemployed and sponging off him while she goes out partying all night and then telling him inconsistent lies when she returns drunkenly in the morning. Stevens comes across as negative and sniping in his manner towards Hathaway, but everything he says is unarguable and it's impressive that it's taken him this long to kick her out.
Yes, that's the end. She's gone. Nowhere to live. There's nothing tying her to New York any more, so she goes back home to New Hampshire.
Still no giant lizards. I'll try to avoid spoilers from now on.
Personally I think the film's talking about empathy. Hathaway's character starts out with the selfishness of an alcoholic, betraying Stevens's trust in her. Meanwhile Stevens clearly cares about Hathaway and is sincerely trying to help her, but he doesn't seem to realise what a negative experience it is to talk to him. (I'm sure he'd have been fine under normal circumstances, though.) What arouses Hathaway's empathy and pushes her towards a better path as a character is, ironically, a giant lizard squashing hundreds of people on the other side of the world. She's horrified. It's the different reactions to giant monsters that define this film's characters, although that's not to say that they don't have other issues too. I'd love to discuss it in more depth, but SPOILERS.
The film's also about relationships, but the problems there mostly seem to boil down to empathy and that's also a problem with giant stomping lizards. It's on the other side of the world. Everyone's watching on the internet. It's a national tragedy if you're South Korean, but for the rest of the world, it's pure entertainment!
I'd been looking forward to this film. It sounded mental. In the end, I thought it was merely quite good. I wouldn't go so far as to call it underwhelming, but it's quite a modest story once you've got past the genre-mashing premise. It has a unique novelty factor, but in practice you soon get used to that and thereafter what's left is a simple, but perfectly good, little small-town story. The characters are mostly failures, of some kind or other. They might be teetering on the brink, or else just ignoring the fact that they're letting themselves slide downhill. Personally I was interested in them all and I wanted to see where the film was taking them, but be aware that there's a bit of a likeability hurdle that will probably trip up some viewers. Hathaway's character starts out as a selfish, drunken, destructive idiot, for instance, and she's the heroine! (She grows, though. There's a lot of character development here.)
What saves the film, I think, is the ending. I'd been thinking the film was basically okay, but then it surprised me by bringing together its metaphor and its reality. That was satisfying. I think the film needed it. Giant lizards become a relationship metaphor, even if not everyone would recommend the solutions that get chosen here.
It's good. Don't expect to have your world turned upside-down, but it's good. The acting's excellent and the story's focused. It's simpler and more straightforward than you'll probably be expecting, but I like where its priorities lie. It's exploring mundane, flawed characters, but with the twist of a fantastical premise. Men can be controlling, insensitive and pathetic. Hathaway is having to claw her way back from being the kind of dead-end person who wakes up in the morning on a park bench (and it's not summer). Don't set your expectations too high, but it's well worth a watch.