SUNDANCE 2017: Capone looks at Nacho Vigalondo's COLOSSAL and the survivalist story WALKING OUT!!!
Published at: Feb. 6, 2017, 1:05 p.m. CST by Capone
Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here. I still have a few more Sundance Film Festival titles I want to let you know about, including these two great works. Enjoy…
I love the way the mind of writer-director Nacho Vigalondo works. He selects a genre that he clearly loves and wonders “What if we took the tropes of this type of film and did THIS with them instead.” He reworked the time-travel story into the utterly bent narrative Timecrimes, and he took the Rear Window scenario and sent it down the internet rabbit hole with Open Windows. A big hit at the Toronto Film Festival and Fantastic Fest last year, his latest work, Colossal, has a few new things to say about the giant monster movie, with a great cold open set in Seoul, South Korea, where a giant creature is terrorizing the locals. We don’t know much about it, beyond the fact that it’s big, scary and clearly upset about something.
Jump ahead many years into the blurry-eyed present-day life of Gloria (a phenomenal Anne Hathaway), a New York party girl living with her straight-edged boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens), who is tired of living with a woman who acts like an unsupervised teenager, so he kicks her out. She moves back to her hometown and into the vacant (and unfurnished) family home. It doesn’t take long for her to reconnect with one of the few old friends still living in the town, Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), who not only brings her a few old pieces of furniture to help fill her place up but also offers her a job at the bar that he owns.
One morning after a particularly dedicated bender, Gloria awakens to new of the aforementioned monster returning to do a little damage in Seoul, and she begins to suspect that something she was involved with the night before might have a connection to the monster, and that is the first of many signs that COLOSSAL is going to be something quite different than your typical monster movie. I don’t want to give away any of the twists the film takes, but the Spanish-born Vigalondo is one of many horror-esque directors who has turned his attention to the way childhood trauma impacts us as adults, and he maneuvers that notion places I’ve never seen it taken.
Nothing is simple here, even the friendship with Oscar gets complicated and takes on a dimension I hadn’t anticipated, one that also involves big, stompy monsters. And the surprisingly complex plot of COLOSSAL doesn’t work with Hathaway committing fully to the film’s emotional components, which opens with a complete meltdown and continues through a slow and steady rebuilding of her strength as a functioning adult—with a few stumbling blocks along the way.
The real surprise in COLOSSAL is Sudeikis’ take on Oscar, who starts out as a real sweetheart and transforms into something else, almost with us recognizing it—something whose actions in the past and the present have huge ramifications. I also liked the Oscar’s two bar buddies (Austin Stowell and Tim Blake Nelson) both amusing and slightly tragic, as the film also examines the life un-lived for people who never leave their hometown. It’s the more intimate moments and vulnerabilities that I found most inspiring in this movie, especially in the context of what could have easily been a dopey, escapist kaiju film (not that there’s anything wrong with those). You can actually feel Vigalondo getting better with each new film, and I’m slightly desperate to see what he comes up with next. The film is set to play at SXSW and then open on April 7; don’t miss it.
One of my biggest surprises at Sundance this year was this understated survival story that is really an examination of an estranged father and son looking for common ground. The latest film from Montana natives and twin brothers Alex and Andrew J. Smith (THE SLAUGHTER RULE, WINTER IN THE BLOOD), WALKING OUT, is based on a short story by David Quammen and concerns 14-year-old David (Josh Wiggins from HELLION and MAX), who goes to Montana to visit his father Cal (Matt Bomer) to take part in an important winter hunting trip in the Montana mountains. David seems less than interested in the hunt, but he’s mature enough to recognize that this means something to his father so he indulges his tough old man.
David has a tough time unplugging from his devices, but Cal takes care of that right quick, and with the help of a few choice flashback, we begin to understand that this trip means something to Cal because he (Alex Neustaedter plays young Cal) and his father (Bill Pullman) made a similar journey when he was a kid, which didn’t turn out to be the bonding experience either hoped for. Cal needs this to go right, since his relationship with David has been strained since Cal and his wife got divorced, and finding a connection has been difficult. The two set out on their cold, snowy hike looking for buck, while Cal tells David about all of the potential dangers they might encounter along the way and how best to handle each one.
Higgins is a strong enough young actor to convey that while David love his father, he’s not sure he likes him or his wilderness-loving, rifle-toting lifestyle, while Cal can’t stand that his son seems to have gotten soft while out of his care. And it’s this tension that the film builds upon and must resolve, especially when their trip goes horribly wrong, and David ends up having to carry his father on his back, all the way down the mountain, while Cal is losing blood at an alarming rate. The trip down is pure agony to watch, and Bomer does a fantastic job capturing his character’s suffering and his pride in his son for taking on such an unimaginable task. It’s great to see him take on something more physical and primal than I’ve seen him do before, and it seems to suit him.
Especially impressive is cinematographer Todd McMullen’s lens work in what I believe is his first feature, after years of being the primary DP on such series as “The Newsroom,” “Friday Night Lights,” “The Leftovers,” and the recently launched Netflix show “Santa Clarita Diet.” The Smith brothers don’t really pick sides in the initial psychological warfare between father and son, but they clearly see the benefits in being preparing in the ways of survivalists (as did I, by the end of this film). For fans of Kelly Reichardt’s CERTAIN WOMEN, the breakout star of that film, Lily Gladstone, mades a brief but significant appearance near the end of WALKING OUT, and proves once again that she emits and aura that just makes us like her.
WALKING OUT is about several things, from accepting the fact that everything in nature wants to kill you, to the parental longing to have you children not just respect but also admire you. I’m also grateful that David is played like some mopey teenager beyond the first few scenes. When he needs to, he pulls strength from within that his father can’t help but be impressed with. The film feels authentic in its depiction of the hardships these two go through, and as a result the Smiths have made their most impressive and accessible film to date.