It's no easy feat to make a surprising monster movie in 2016. It's one of the oldest subgenres around. Hell, King Kong movies awed audiences twice before World War II even started. Since then we've seen pretty much every form of monster movie there is, from giants that stomp on cities to smaller beasties that invade houses. This year at Fantastic Fest, though, two very cool and very different movies proved that there are still new stories to be found in the genre.
Before we get to Colossal and 90 Degrees North (90 Grad Nord) though, let's talk briefly about one movie that unfortunately didn't bring much new energy to the table: Shin Godzilla. The 31st film in the franchise is a also the third Japanese attempt at rebooting the nuclear mutant, and while it's pretty much always fun to watch Godzilla stomp things, the movie around him is a mess. It starts out as an amusing satire of modern politics, with the government constantly tripping themselves up as they try and figure out how to respond to the hideous creature that just crawled out of the ocean, but then it falls into a standard pattern of fleeting destruction flanked by dozens and dozens of people droning on about what they can possibly do to stop it all.
The big problem with Shin Godzilla is that there are no personal stakes. It's a movie about an institution fighting another institution. Occasionally someone makes a good point, but for the most part it's just dull arguing. And the CGI is jagged, hollow, and all-around bad, but that's a whole other problem.
Colossal and 90 Degrees North, on the other hand, succeed by being personal monster movies. Written and directed by Nacho Vigalondo, Colossal stars Anne Hathaway as a functioning alcoholic who discovers that she is, quite to her own bewilderment, inextricably tied to a giant monster that keeps periodically appearing half a world away in Seoul, South Korea. As she and her friends discover more about the connection between the two, a layered and surprisingly emotional story emerges about a woman and the forces, both literal and figurative, that try to control her. To say more about the actual mechanics of how the monster stuff unfolds would be to spoil a lot of the fun of discovering it for yourself, but in short it's both smart and funny.
Where Colossal takes someone's micro issues and blows them up to a macro scale, 90 Degrees North takes macro societal issues and brings them down to a micro scale. Written and directed by Detsky Graffam, 90 Degrees North is a 21-minute short film about a businessman whose car runs out of gas on the way to what seems like the most important meeting of his life. As he walks on the side of the road he hears a call for help somewhere in the woods. Reluctantly, he decides to be a decent person and investigates the plea. In the middle of nowhere he finds a road and an intersection that has two other businessmen at it, both of whom are also out of gas.
At this point you're probably wondering where a giant monster is going to fit into all of this. Well, there isn't one. Instead there's a highly original monster we never really see; an ancient man-eater that's somehow taken the form of this intersection. And it has rules. If anyone or anything enters the road when the light says to not cross, the monster kills them and feasts on their corpse. As with Vigalondo's film, it'd ruin a lot of the fun to break down the specifics of what happens next in Graffam's film, but they both have the remarkable ability to wear their metaphors on their sleeve and yet still have enough subtly and humanity to tell an intimate story with larger-than-life villains.
Colossal currently doesn't have a release date but will likely hit theaters in 2017. 90 Degrees North is unfortunately not online yet, but here's a fun teaser for it.