COLOR OUT OF SPACE
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Joely Richardson, Madeleine Arthur, Brendan Meyer, Julian Hilliard, Elliot Knight, and Tommy Chong
Writers: Richard Stanley, Scarlett Amaris
Director: Richard Stanley
Based on the Short Story “The Colour Out of Space” by H.P. Lovecraft
Do you believe me now?
I don’t know what I believe anymore …
Cult auteur Richard Stanley makes a thunderous return in the unsettling, beautifully constructed Color Out of Space. Teaming with horror writer Scarlett Amaris, Stanley comes back with a full-on H.P. Lovecraft cinematic universe, built around one of the author’s key “Mythos” tales: “The Colour Out of Space.”
The Gardner family lives on the outside of Arkham, MA, after the head of the family Nathan (a truly activated Nic Cage) took over a family estate from his departed father. He lives there with his wife, Theresa (the dreamy Joely Richardson), and three children, Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur), Benny (Brendan Meyer), and the youngest Jack (Julian Hilliard). They have settled nicely into the farm life, transforming their homestead into a niche, hipster farm, connected to the outside world only through their budding alpaca milk business and Theresa’s day-trading.
But one night, a mysterious meteor crashes into their front yard, sinking deeply into the soil, having been pushed further into the ground by a freak lightning storm. Something from beyond the stars soon infects the Gardner’s, poisoning their land, minds, and even flesh as the Color soon bleeds into reality, taking them one by one. As the Color takes the family, it threatens to spread further into Arkham County.
Taking even whole passages from the original short story, Stanley, Amaris, and a truly talented effects and sound team deliver a wildly uncomfortable but richly entertaining adaptation. By tapping fully into the cosmic elements of the story, intimate horror staging, and the “indescribable” monster design one would associate with Lovecraftian monsters, Stanley’s return to features stands as a resounding success — maybe even arguably the best modern Lovecraft adaptation to date. Color Out of Space is just that good.
Opening with an extended credit sequence made up of gorgeous shots of dense forests, Stanley and Amaris state their intentions early. Narrated by Miskatonic U graduate and hydrologist Ward (the movie’s stalwart “city outsider” Elliot Knight) — the text taken directly from the opening pages of the short word-for-word — they set the scene. From there, we are introduced to the dynamics and geography of the Gardner farm. These opening scenes are critical for the bedrock of the movie. By going out of their way to show the family and farm at normality, it makes the strangeness of the Color’s influence all the more jarring and unsettling.
It starts slow. After kicking up a small media fuss, spurred on by Arkham’s mayor (an oddly cast Q’orianka Kilcher), the Gardners attempt to move on from their brush with beyond. But something is now living in their well, bleeding an odd purple and pink substance into the taps. After it hatches, strange wildlife starts to appear around the farm, heralding an early but poisoned harvest. From there, each member of the family is slowly driven insane by the hall of mirrors their once-idyllic farm has become in stagey, highly attuned set pieces that both entertain and unsettle.
If there was any doubt as to the dulling of Stanley’s power as a director in the time he has been away from features, Color Out of Space quickly blasts it away. Armed with a highly sharpened sound design and nightmarishly amazing special effects, Stanley’s camera moves and staging consistently impress. Each set piece and scare is clearly blocked for the highest effects, usually bathed in a tremendous lighting scheme or enhanced by judicious special effects and sound design. Stanley also seems to have gotten better with dealing with actors as well, because each member of the cast is absolutely bringing their A-game.
Anchored by the barely suppressed manic energy of Nic Cage, each member of the ensemble gets tremendous spotlights, all centered around their contact with The Color. To really get into each scene is to give away Color Out of Space‘s best treats. Rest assured, each actor is showcased brilliantly, and every one of them rises to the occasion alongside Cage.
With Lovecraft adaptations, it’s kind of an “either/or” kind of deal. Either they can be overtly pulpy or weirdly stuffy and self-serious. Somehow, someway Color Out of Space is both AND amazing at the same time. Taking the stiltedly beautiful prose of H.P. Lovecraft and translating it through the lens of cinematic, bravura filmmaking, Richard Stanley has distilled the essence of both into a towering vision of a pillar of the horror lit community. It’s a vision that will surely stand the test of time. If you think this sounds hyperbolic, see Color Out of Space, and then we can talk.