Articles

Color Out of Space

Sci-fi

/ Remi
Color Out of Space cover

Like many, I have eagerly been awaiting Nic Cage’s follow-up to Mandy. The 2018 movie has cemented itself as a cult classic, largely due to Cage’s off-the-rails, yet strangely restrained performance.

In Color Out of Space (a loose adaptation of Lovecraft’s 1927 short-story), we once again see a weird and crazy Cage, though this time in a very different manner. The film is generally more accessible than Mandy, still an odd view, but not so much that it feels like an acid trip gone wrong.

We follow the Gardner family, living on a farm outside of Arkham, Massachusetts. They raise alpacas, and mom, Theresa (Joely Richardson), runs a one-person stockbroker service. One dark night, the skies light up, and a glowing purple meteorite crashes into their front-yard. Almost immediately, things go weird. Nathan (Cage) starts smelling an indecipherable stench; his daughter, Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur, bringing an all-out performance), hears painful, piercing sounds. The family members’ behavior grows increasingly bizarre, and the environment and wildlife around them start mutating.

The meteorite is, as it seems, more than meets the eye.

Nic Cage, then. Here is a performance that takes most of my post-Mandy expectations and turns them upside down. At his most normal, Nathan is downright weird; at his most insane, he seems relatively relatable. (Relatively being the operative word – it’s still Nic Cage we’re talking about.)

There are some glorious moments when Nathan is interviewed by the local news stations. His lines – which on paper seem par the course – will likely become Quotable Cage thanks to some pitch-perfect deliveries. Well, I do like a glass of bourbon shouldn’t be as snort out funny as it is, nor should While the cat’s away, the mice will play. Those aren’t funny lines in themselves, but Cage injects them with a freakish sense of humor that greatly compliments the Lovecraft material.

As for the author himself, I have always enjoyed his writing, but I have not read the short story the movie is based on. I can say the film is different from Lovecraft’s general writings – the misogynist and racist parts are thankfully gone – and the plot has, judging by the short story’s summary, been stretched out and modernized. (Plus we get Tommy Chong, which is always welcomed.)

The narration is also its own beast. Lovecraft’s books tended to be told from one character’s perspective and were often built on paranoid claustrophobia. It’s probably for the best that this was ignored for the movie, as the family’s shared experiences drive the story forward in a way more suited for films. One character’s action affects another’s, which has an unintended effect on an unsuspecting animal. The dominoes fall as the family’s collective sanity deteriorates with them.

And as far as spot-the-Lovecraft-references, there is plenty to watch out for. The Necronomicon (The Book of the Dead), for example – a mainstay in Cthulhu lore – is prominently featured. These references often play into the story and serve as more than nods to the fans.

Color Out of Space is Richard Stanley’s first movie in almost twenty-five years after his disastrous The Island of Dr. Moreau (his unfair firing was documented in Lost Soul (2014)). As a comeback film, it could not be a whole lot better. The sound design and cinematography are spot-on, and the cast delivers excellent performances. It’s hard to get sci-fi/horror-pacing right, but Stanley makes it work. The action hits quickly, without feeling rushed. Color Out of Space might not be Lovecraftian in every dramaturgic aspect, but the under-your-skin building blocks are very much present.

This is about as good of a SpectreVision/Cage follow-up I could have hoped for, and Richard Stanley can fully shed the unfair tarnish his reputation suffered for decades. Color Out of Space is a great sci-fi/horror hybrid, with a handful of lighthearted moments thrown in for good measure. It’s a movie anyone and everyone could and should enjoy.