Color Out of Space (2020)
"The body horror is unsettling... and escalates to full messed-up nastiness reminiscent of John Carpenter’s The Thing."
Woozy cosmic body horror seems to be having a moment. Recent films such as The Void (2016), Annihilation (2018) and Wounds (2019) have pounded an oozy trail and birthed the perfect environment in which a new H.P. Lovecraft adaptation like Richard Stanley’s Color Out of Space can thrive like a big alien tomato.
Stanley sets his telling of Lovecraft’s classic tale in a remote family home amongst ancient woodlands, where he has created a somewhat timeless world. The family treads a comfortable line between mystic rituals and online trading, eldritch symbols are seen alongside Airpods, and Blair Witch-style dolls hang from trees next to CCTV cameras.
For a story previously deemed unfilmable, Stanley has done a damn fine job at putting it on the big screen. Lovecraft looms large over the film, with mentions of Arkham, glimpses of the Necronomicon and some Miskatonic Uni swag all here. Plus that general feeling of mystery and unease; the ‘monsters’ are beyond extra-terrestrial, with Stanley successfully creating a sense of true otherness.
"Madenning sights beyond human comprehension."
Nicolas Cage plays father-of-three Nate Gardner - a portly, gillet-wearing bad cook, described in one of the film’s more comic moments as an “amateur farmer/bourbon connoisseur”. Joley Richardson is both commanding and vulnerable as Theresa, a mother and financial advisor whose cancer has left her feeling “tarnished.” The kids are Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur: To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before) who practices witchcraft, Benny (Brendan Meyer, The Guest) the teenage stoner struggling to take on new responsibilities, and youngest son Jack (Julian Hilliard, The Haunting of Hill House).
They’re a believable family, playful and argumentative, living their new rural lifestyle as best they can with their alpacas and their large isolated house; an imperfect idyll about to be thrown into turmoil when a meteorite lands in their front yard.
The local mayor shows an interest in the event - bringing with her an air of insidious politics - as do hippy Ezra (a perfectly-cast Tommy Chong) who ‘squats’ on the farm and enjoys a chat about the echosphere and space metal, and hydrologist Ward (Elliot Knight). It’s worth noting here that considering H.P. Lovecraft is notorious as having been a massive racist, it’s satisfying to see a person of colour cast in a prominent role.
So this is our cast of characters, about to be turned upside-down, inside-out and back-to-front.
"Stanley successfully visualises that which was supposedly ‘unfilmable’."
The ‘colour’ of the title (it’s a nightmare being English and writing about this film) is purples and rainbows, and blues, whites, pinks, and greens. It’s every colour and no colour at all, and so Stanley successfully visualises that which was supposedly ‘unfilmable’. The colour suffuses everything, turning the farm into a beautiful, lush homestead; a terrifying paradise where flowers bloom, frogs wallow, fruits flourish - but it’s all rotten and there’s blood in the eggs. And don’t drink the water.
“It’s just a colour,” we’re told, “but it burns.”
SpectreVision seem to have cultivated a particular aesthetic with recent productions like Mandy (2018) and Daniel Isn’t Real (2019), and Color Out of Space is a perfect new addition to the palette.
Soon enough the family and the farm animals are affected too. They’re getting sick and acting very weird. The Gardners seem to have a complete inability to deal with the situation or know what to do. But we get a glimpse into a family’s ability to roll with the punches when one or more of its members is down.
Horror tropes abound: there’s a well, some classic creepy kid behaviour, the electrics are playing up - including some Poltergeist-esque TV shenanigans - and of course, the phones are out. But it’s all done with such aplomb that it’s never not compelling.
The body horror is unsettling. It starts relatively subtly as skin thickens and cracks, ramps up to some brutal ritual cutting, and escalates to full messed-up nastiness reminiscent of John Carpenter’s The Thing.
"The ‘monsters’ are beyond extra-terrestrial."
Color Out of Space is entertaining, engaging, well-acted, weird, funny, gross and thoroughly enjoyable. In short, everything I hoped it would be.
It culminates in a satisfactorily explosive finale and, in a nice touch for fans of Lovecraft’s descriptions of madenning sights beyond human comprehension, the narrative ends with an academic relaying how events surrounding the ‘color out of space’ are unexplainable by science and would stun the brain.
While I have you... a quick observation about the state of cinema audiences and the apparent hysteria surrounding Nicolas Cage. Let it be known that Cage is really good in Color Out of Space. Just really normal (relatively speaking) and good. However at my screening, the audience was tittering from literally the moment he appeared on screen. He hadn’t even said anything. There is genuine, spot-on comedy in the film (alpaca boobs, for example) but the audience continued to laugh throughout at the most inappropriate of moments, seemingly just because Cage was visible. I can only assume that people are so excited for him to go “full Cage”, as has apparently become his calling-card, that they can’t contain themselves. Well I’ve got this message for you: get a grip! It’s super distracting and undermines the excellent work that Nicolas Cage is doing as an actor.
I’m looking forward to seeing Color Out of Space again in the silence of my own home, away from the giggling hordes. I also can’t wait to see what Richard Stanley does next in his reported ‘Lovecraft trilogy’, with The Dunwich Horror and beyond.