Color Out of Space, 2019.
Directed by Richard Stanley.
Starring Nicolas Cage, Joely Richardson, Madeleine Arthur, Brendan Meyer, Julian Hilliard, Elliot Knight, Q’orianka Kilcher and Tommy Chong.
A secluded farm is struck by a strange meteorite that soon begins to have a strange effect on its surroundings, including the farms’ human inhabitants.
Throughout this month we’ve taken a look at a few films based on the works of influential horror writer H.P. Lovecraft. While those works perhaps dabbled in his world, they would often hesitate from fully embracing the authors distinctive brand of cosmic horror. Today’s subject, however, doesn’t merely embrace it, it revels in it. Adapting one of Lovecraft’s most popular stories and giving us what might be the purest attempt at a Lovecraftian cinematic experience; Richard Stanley’s Color Out of Space.
Over 20 years after he was infamously fired from the disastrous 1996 take on The Island of Dr Moreau, Color Out of Space signals the return cult director Richard Stanley, the film-maker quickly jumping back into the director’s chair with an unbridled sense of enthusiasm and ambition.
The story is classic Lovecraftian cosmic horror. A tale in which ordinary people are forced to confront a threat they have no chance of defeating or even comprehending without collapsing into madness. The fantastical nature of the story is melded with a relatable family drama of the Gardner’s facing personal hardship, the increasingly strange and nightmarish events kept to the background for much of the first half.
If I’m perfectly honest though, I really struggled through this portion of the film, the slow-burn approach quickly overstaying its welcome as you long for something to happen. Even the arrival of an asteroid loaded with sinister purple energy isn’t enough to get things moving. While it does work at building up tension and atmosphere, Stanley perhaps takes too long with it. Unfortunately, making the film feel overlong and, sadly, somewhat tedious. Although I will concede that, despite the pacing issues, the acting is exemplary across the board, with Nicolas Cage and Joely Richardson, in particular, excelling in their restrained performances as a loving couple facing their problems together.
The second half is where things pick up as the strange force (dubbed “The Color”) begins to work its otherworldly magic on the Gardners and their livestock, creating such sights as a gooey snarling alpaca monster (yes really). And, most pleasingly, turning the sedate and calm Nicolas Cage into, well, that Nicolas Cage. Channelling his iconic Kiss of the Vampire performance and projecting the wilder large than life energy that we all know and love. Although, to his credit, Cage still knows when to draw himself him and convey the growing tragedy of his situation. It is a lot of fun though.
The film is littered with numerous references to the various towns and institutes that populate the world of Lovecraft’s writings, with the Necronomicon and the locations of Arkham, Innsmouth, Dunwich and the Miskatonic University (which appeared in Re-Animator) getting fun little mentions. These references might be nice little nods for long time horror fans, but, they also act as suggestions that Color is merely one story in a much larger Lovecraftian universe ripe with cinematic potential. I’m just saying, I wouldn’t mind a Lovecraft Cinematic Universe.
The visuals and the special effects are easily Color Out of Space’s greatest assets. With Stanley and his cinematographer, Steve Annis, creatively using magenta, a colour whose unusual properties (such as the way the human eye perceives it) to create an otherworldly atmosphere that is as eerie as is beautiful. The creature effects are also impressive with some of the designs acting as a disgusting affectionate throwback to the likes of John Carpenter’s The Thing, the alpaca monster (yes, still really) looking like something that wouldn’t look out of place battling Kurt Russell. Without spoiling too much, one particular creature that stands out is one that can best be described as a nightmarish depiction of a mother and child relationship that is way too close. Beginning as a sympathetic sight before transforming into a frightening monster damn near made me crap myself.
While there is a lot to admire with Color Out of Space, the languid pacing is what holds it back, with perhaps the film running about 15-20 minutes too long. I didn’t care much for the ending either. While it’s visually stunning feast for the eyes and certainly memorable, it, all felt like a barrage of colour and noise instead of a coherent, satisfying climax. Although I concede, that was probably the whole point, and I just didn’t get it.
Color Out of Space is very much an acquired taste. The film is a visually creative adaptation that does justice to the work of its author, while also boasting impressive creature effects and another wonderfully manic performance from Nicolas Cage. However, its slow-burn approach, that is perhaps too heavy on the build-up and too light on delivery might sour more casual viewers despite the impressive technical prowess. While I have mixed feelings about it, Color Out of Space, despite its shortcomings, is a film that I’m confident will become a beloved cult classic.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★