COLOR OUT OF SPACE
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Madeleine Arthur
Directed by: Richard Stanley
Running Time: 1 hr 51 mins
Ladies and gentlemen, if you’re going to plunge into a pool of psychedelically deranged lunacy you might as well jump in feet first. Richard Stanley has arrived with a holiday gift that’s a little late but greatly appreciated and it’s gift wrapped in Alpaca fur. Its contents is the offspring of the trifecta of mania that no one imagined they’d ever see but secretly wished for: Cult-favorite director, Richard Stanley adapting a nearly century old tale of cosmically horrifying oddity by H.P. Lovecraft, top-lined by Nicolas Cage, who is maybe strictly here to ooze an excess of eccentricity (which is okay because it’s working!)
“Color Out of Space” opens with an excerpt of Lovecraft’s story, guiding us through a tour of rolling vegetative forestry, swollen from mist and fog. Combined with the onset of composer Colin Stetson’s majestic score (a follow up to his unforgettable work on Ari Aster’s “Hereditary”), it is clear that if nothing else the audience should buckle in for a highly satisfying visual and aural experience.
The Gardner family has moved into an inherited remote farmhouse to recollect and cope with matriarch Theresa’s (Joely Richardson) cancer diagnosis. Her husband, Nathan, (Nicolas Cage) has been dealing with his newfound domestic isolation by raising alpacas. Their three children are settling in individually via decidedly caricatured teenage ways – son Benny (Brendan Meyer) has started smoking pot with a local squatter-weirdo named Ezra (Tommy Chong, naturally) while their daughter Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur) has taken to theatrically carrying around a copy of Lovecraft’s omnipresent Necronomicon and practicing spells whilst cloaked on a white horse. Lavinia’s meeting of a local hydrologist turns the faucet on for a slow drip of Easter eggs that will please Lovecraftian fans everywhere, placing this story specifically just outside fictional Arkham, MA with references to H.P.’s Miskatonic University and other locations peppered in.
The Gardner family is barely settled in when a luminous meteorite crashes in front of their house. Curiosity not to be ignored, the family investigate and while the children complain of high-pitched sounds, Nathan continuously and independently notes it is emanating a horrific unidentifiable odor… right before remembering he has to tend to the alpacas.
Things progress quickly from here. The hydrologist advises the Gardners that he suspects the area’s water table may be unsuitable to consume, the meteorite deteriorates and disappears into the Earth, their farm is suddenly billowing with exotic, colorful and alien plant and animal life. So, yes, now there’s exotic animal life AND alpacas. We learn that whatever the meteorite was… it’s in the water, it’s in the soil and it’s universe altering. It’s part of the farm and now it’s become a part of the Gardners and if you’re here for the Nicolas Cage variety hour, now is the time to prepare for some full-force scenery chewing.
The family’s afflictions are all uniquely fashioned. Their youngest child is hearing voices coming from the family’s well, Nathan and Theresa become aggressively manic with their children and Lavinia can’t stop puking meteorite juice. Things are about to get a little… well, psychedelic.
There’s no time for a why, how or what else after because this movie is ultimately singularly about the destruction of this one family and their space. Color Out of Space’s third act brings a full artillery of body horror, gore and disgusting imagery that’s stitched together with brain-melting and fur-sliming sequences of fantastical imagery and effects. Did I mention the alpacas?! Nathan tells his family they’re the animal of the future and they are most certainly the apex of this glorious fever dream. At this juncture some viewers may feel that narrative has fallen casualty to special effect work, a sacrifice I’m happily willing to make if I must for a film like this, but ultimately the unknown is very much your co-pilot here.
There needs to be more Richard Stanley in Hollywood and certainly more Lovecraft. Arguably there’s probably JUST enough Nic Cage but when he hits, it’s a home run of wild eyed lunacy that’s always welcome in my universe.
The brilliance of Lovecraft’s story is that it’s terror is limited only by the confines of one’s imagination. Put to screen it will immediately never satisfy all fans and therefore this film is probably best utilized as an experience of your senses. This is a film to see in a theater if it all possible given its limited release. “Color Out of Space” will check all the boxes if you’re looking for satisfying cosmic horror, a colorful Lovecraftian journey or if you’re just scratching an itch for wanting to watch Cage’s mind unravel for awhile and it will do and or all of these things with the dial turned to eleven.