COLOR OUT OF SPACE ½
No MPAA rating, 111 mins.
2020, No MPAA rating, 111 mins.
Nicolas Cage as Nathan Gardner / Joely Richardson as Theresa Gardner / Q'orianka Kilcher as Mayor Tooma / Tommy Chong as Ezra / Brendan Meyer as Benny Gardner / Madeleine Arthur as Lavinia Gardner / Julian Hilliard as Jack Gardner
Directed by Richard Stanley / Written by Stanley and Scarlett Amaris, based on the short story by H. P. Lovecraft
It's hard to imagine that director Richard Stanley hasn't made a feature film in nearly 25 years.
His last attempt
at such was the doomed production of 1996's THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU,
which was a self professed passion project for the filmmaker, but his
dreams of seeing that film through to final fruition failed when he was
unceremoniously terminated and replaced during principal photography.
Soured to the whole Hollywood system, Stanley has laid dormant from
it ever since, opting to make documentaries and short films to quell his
creative thirsts. Outside of
MOREAU, 1992's DUST DEVIL and 1990's HARDWARE, Stanley simply hasn't been
a part of the feature film world.
That, of course,
changes with COLOR OUT OF SPACE, which marks a highly triumphant return to
form for the previously disgraced director, which in turn (by his own
aims) marks the first in a trilogy of films based on the
impossibly-hard-to-adapt-to-film works of H.P. Lovecraft.
The wait was well worth it, seeing as COLOR OUT OF SPACE (based on
a Lovecraft short story) benefits from a supreme audacity of vision from
Stanley, who manages to take very difficult source material and
miraculously crafts something genuinely horrifying and visually
stimulating all the same. Part
SIGNS, part THE THING, part THE FLY, and multiple parts INVASION OF THE
BODY SNATCHERS, COLOR OUR OF SPACE benefits from not only from being a
supremely assured and bold appropriation of Lovecraft's source material,
but it also represents a truly inspired mishmash of midnight cult film
appeal with the sheer and untamed nuttiness of Nicolas Cage, who stars
here as the lead in a memorably gonzo performance with very little filters
being placed over him. The unbridled strangeness of Lovecraft blended with
the unhinged performance histrionics of Cage makes for a wicked cocktail,
The Oscar winning
actor isn't in full-on Cage-ian insanity mode right from the very
beginning, though. In the
opening stages of the film we meet his character, Nathan Gardner, a former
artist that has decided to completely uproot his entire family to Arkham,
Massachusetts, more specifically to a rural farm where he hopes to
cultivate a living as a raiser of alpacas (okay, so the film is
weird from the get-go). His
wife in Theresa (Joely Richardson) has recently had a tough battle with
cancer, and their children in Lavinia (Madeline Arthur) and her young
brother Benny (Brendan Meyer) deal with their own unique growing pains of
being isolated from the world. Their
relative state of normalcy is deeply uprooted by the sudden crash landing
appearance of a mysterious asteroid of unknown origin on their front lawn.
And it's no ordinary space rock, mostly because it pulsates with an
ethereally bright pink/purple glow.
The family is
initially annoyed by the appearance of this extraterrestrial anomaly that
has gutted their property, but things change for the worse when the rock
starts to spontaneously disintegrate, and it's at this point when some
truly bizarre occurrences begin. New flowers begin to rapidly bloom in Nathan's garden, with
his own tomato crop managing to sprout in ways that defy all agricultural
science. Then the home's
electronic devices begin to behave strangely, losing their signals and
displaying ominously creepy test patterns.
Soon after this, all of the members of the Gardner clan begin
acting very, very oddly, which shockingly culminates with a near
zombified Theresa committing a horrific act of bodily harm to herself
without even acknowledging it. The
youngest kid in Jack (Julian Hilliard) becomes utterly transfixed
by their well, and Nathan displays what could be best described as
schizophrenic behavior. A
newly arrived hydrologist in Ward (Elliot Knight) begins to sense that
something is wrong with the water supply after doing some routine tests,
but it might be too little too late for the Gardners, as their possessed
minds get the better of them, and the entity that's doing the possessing
leads them down a truly nightmarish path.
One thing that I
chiefly admired about COLOR OUT OF SPACE is Stanley's untamed willingness
to simply swing for the fences and embrace this macabre material as
opposed to lazily and slavishly adhering to safe and secure genre troupes.
Obviously, the idea of aliens - in one form or another coming to
Earth to infest people and rob them of their humanity - is hardly new to sci-fi horror, but COLOR OUT OF SPACE brings a whole new level of
chilling weirdness to the proceedings. As the foreign spirit begins to take a stranglehold on the
family, it's at this point when Stanley's film becomes a twisted menagerie
of ghoulish sights and sounds. This
isn't an obligatory alien invasion picture on pure autopilot, nor does it
involve this family battling the aliens in the literally
sense. COLOR OUT OF SPACE is
about showing the unstoppable and almost invisible way that the alien
force corrupts this group for the hellish worse, leaving them with very
little in the way of a fall-back defensive position.
What is Nathan, as the head of the family, to do when his skin
starts to rot and his mind has become equally rotten by this cosmic force?
For a modest
budgeted effort, COLOR OUT OF SPACE contains a considerable amount of
glossy production value, especially in the arena of practical and CG
visual effects, the former delving into aspects of ghastly body
disturbance horror that makes comparisons to similar work in THE THING all
the more credible. Horrific
sights and monsters also appear to traumatize the broken down Gardners,
with the titular color from space perhaps being the most intimidating of
all of the dangerous forces. The
otherworldly and psychedelic cinematography here works wonders at crafting
a vividly beautiful, but terrifying sheen to the film, and Colin Stetson's
undulating music score eerily compliments the story's parade of monstrous
imagery. As an
auditory/visual experience, COLOR OUT OF SPACE is an intoxicating affair,
showing Stanley's unwavering desire to make audience members feel as
increasingly ill at ease as the characters.
Stanley takes his time on expositional family particulars before throwing
them down a rabbit hole of unspeakable horrors.
The character dynamics of the Gardners feels relatable and
authentically drawn, in particular Theresa's recent grapple with and
victory over a near cancer afflicted death, leading to her having fears
and doubts about her future (it has the effect of making what happens to
her and her husband all the more unbearably unsettling when the alien
starts to really have its way with them). Then, of course, there's Cage's appearance here in this RLJE
studio produced fright fest (they also coincidentally produced last year's
straight-up insane MANDY, also starring
Cage). True to form, Cage is
given supreme carte blanche here to show Nathan's slow descent into
incurable madness, and those in attendance watching COLOR OUT OF SPACE
wanting - nay, demanding - another soon-to-be legendary cult
freak-out performance, then you'll definitely feel appeased here.
Witnessing the actor's work in MANDY and in COLOR OUT OF SPACE (two
pitch perfectly paired for future double feature screenings) reminds us
that only an actor of Cage's range, skill, and throw caution to the wind
nuttiness would have made this role work.
Having said all of that, it's a true Herculean feat that Stanley has lovingly and boldly crafted a sci-fi horror effort that's arguably crazier than Cage's bizarre acting proclivities, and I think it certainly requires some level of discipline and conceptual persistence for Stanley to hold this whole enterprise together with reasonable confidence. Not everything works here, though, like perhaps a bit of distracting too on the nose casting of Tommy Chong as a local pot smoking hermit with a cat named...G-Spot (he's good in the film, but the payoff of his character is kind of achingly telegraphed). There's a somewhat failed attempt to flesh out some of the surrounding town's characters that kind of goes nowhere. Yet, those are minuscule issues, because I was so taken in by the sheer haunting strangeness of COLOR OUT OF SPACE that I found myself having a hard time shaking this picture from my mind after viewing it. Equal parts intense, perverse, and harrowingly offbeat and unpredictable (the climax alone is a bombastically bloodcurdling humdinger), Stanley's first feature film since the mid 1990s shows that he still has nerve-jangling tricks up his sleeves.
And if you want to see a scene featuring an unstoppably crazed Cage orally abusing multiple ripe tomatoes, then look no further than here.