Color Out of Space, 2019.
Directed by Richard Stanley.
Starring Nicolas Cage, Joely Richardson, Madeleine Arthur, Elliot Knight, Brendan Meyer, Julian Hillard and Q’orianka Kilcher.
When a meteorite lands in their farm, a family descends into anarchy as a strange contagion spreads across their land.
Richard Stanley is an interesting name in cinema. For the last few decades, he has mainly undertaken writing work and documentary projects but, before that, he was the original director of the 1996 adaptation of The Island of Dr. Moreau. As chronicled in the 2014 documentary Lost Soul, Stanley worked on the movie for years but was sacked just a few days into production and replaced by John Frankenheimer. Color Out of Space is his first feature as writer-director since that fiasco, and it’s a delectably bonkers descent into a kaleidoscopic, other-worldly circle of hell.
The Gardners are a normal family, or at least as ordinary as a family can be when its patriarch is Nicolas Cage. Cage is Nathan, who has recently moved to a secluded farm in the wake of his wife Theresa’s (Joely Richardson) masectomy. Their eldest son has started smoking pot with a local hermit, while their daughter is embracing witchcraft in the hope of making her mother healthier and the youngest son has retreated into himself. When a purple-coloured meteorite crashes into their yard in a blinding flash of light, their lives are irrevocably changed.
To delve more deeply into the plot of Color Out of Space – adapted from the H.P. Lovecraft short story – would be a fruitless exercise. Stanley has delivered prime Lovecraftian weirdness of the most delightfully icky vintage, with psychedelic visuals and chaos to spare. The plot lurches from magenta-hued sci-fi ideas to full-bore body horror, with a third act packed with the sort of squelchy effects work that was a hallmark of Rob Bottin’s innovative work in movies like The Thing.
Over the course of its two-hour running time, Color Out of Space unravels as a bracing spiral into a colourful nightmare. The eye-catching and ear-bursting sonic boom of the initial extra-terrestrial event lights the starting pistol on a pantomime of spectacle that slowly builds to a crescendo of indelible, horrifying images. This is a movie steeped in references to the genre’s past. As well as nods to The Thing, there’s a clear visual homage to Poltergeist and an ethereal insect creature who could be ripped straight from the Lovecraft-inspired cinematic oeuvre of Guillermo del Toro.
For those who are that way inclined, Stanley also loosens the reins upon his star. Cage’s unique style is essentially all-meme at this point and, after an impressively restrained first act in which he showcases a gently funny, easygoing chemistry with Richardson, he largely delivers what his fans will want. If you’re minded to enjoy the spectacle of Cage theatrically chucking tomatoes into a bin or repeatedly beating up his car after calling it a “cocksucker”, then there’s plenty of that to be found. But when the movie around Cage is as unhinged as this one, his more buffoonish excesses – an endless, bizarre running joke about alpacas – seem unnecessary and often detrimental, robbing the more serious moments of their dramatic impact.
Fortunately, Stanley exerts a more impressive degree of control elsewhere. The joy of Color Out of Space is that its madness never comes at the expense of its internal logic. Lovecraft’s cosmic insanity and Stanley’s genre sensibilities prove to be perfect bedfellows as the filmmaker elegantly stacks chaos on top of chaos, delivering grotesque shocks aplenty, riding in step with the big ideas communicated via the sci-fi elements and the boldly ambiguous conclusion.
Color Out of Space is one of the most interesting additions to the horror canon in years, with Stanley flexing his genre muscles to produce something that is never anything other than distinct and idiosyncratic. Cage’s unhinged shtick slots into this world fairly comfortably and, other than in occasional moments of overly knowing absurdity, he doesn’t overwhelm the material as he has in some of his more recent efforts. With lashings of comedy in amongst the darkness, this is an adventurous and exciting treat that will have the genre audience salivating with joy.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. Follow him on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for movie opinions, wrestling stuff and puns.