After years away from feature narrative film-making, director Richard Stanley is back in a big way. Stanley’s early eclectic work included bizarro cult classics Hardware and Dust Devil. Sadly, film-goers most likely recall Stanley from his very brief work on the disastrous The Island of Dr Moreau. New Line Cinema notoriously fired Stanley just days into production. But now Stanley has returned with a big screen version of HP Lovecraft’s Color Out of Space. Though Lovecraft adaptions have more often been ‘misses’ than ‘hits’, critics have been impressed with this cosmic horror outing.
Several months after his wife’s mastectomy, Nathan Gardner takes his family from the city to a remote farmhouse. Though Nathan naively makes a go at raising alpacas, his family struggles with the transition. His oldest son spends most of his time smoking pot, while his Wiccan daughter dabbles with spells. Meanwhile, his wife grows resentful as she struggles to progress her career remotely. But when a strange glowing meteorite crashes outside the Gardner’s home, a strange ‘color’ begins changing things around the helpless family. Soon the Gardners find themselves struggling against unknown cosmic forces.
Color Out of Space an Eerie, Visually Stunning Experience
Early in his career, Stanley demonstrated an uncanny grasp for atmosphere and filming eclectic material. As such, he’s an ideal director for tackling Lovecraft’s less conventional works. And straight out of the gate, Color Out of Space embraces a very distinct ‘midnight movie’ vibe. There’s a foreboding atmosphere – a sense something isn’t quite right – that Stanley maintains throughout the movie. Stanley’s filmmaking style maps well onto Lovecraft’s story ensuring the narrative unfolds very unexpectedly. Nothing about Color Out of Space feels familiar or rote. As the story continuity moves forward and turns, you’re drawn further into the Gardner’s plight. Occasionally, some scenes – usually those involving Tommy Chong’s ‘Ezra’ – disrupt the movie’s flow. Yet for the most part, Color Out of Space is tightly paced.
…Color Out of Space embraces a very distinct ‘midnight movie’ vibe.
In addition to its atmosphere and eerie story-telling, Stanley and cinematographer Steve Annis film Color Out of Space through a dreamy kaleidoscope. The remote scenery is awash in bright colours that add to the feeling of moving from a dream to a nightmare. Color Out of Space isn’t traditionally scary per se. That is, Stanley’s adaptation doesn’t emphasize jumps or jolts. Rather Color Out of Space operates more as an affecting and often disconcerting emotional experience. Many of its visuals and distorted creatures will remind viewers of Annihilation or Cage’s other recent oddity, Mandy. This is a mesmerizing experience that lingers with you long after it’s over.
A ‘Full Cage’ Performance At Odds With Stanley’s Tone
Over the last few years, Nicolas Cage has carved out something of a late-career niche for himself in eclectic indie horror movies. Horror-comedy Mom and Dad and hallucinogenic revenge-thriller Mandy – both XYZ Films’ productions – put Cage’s quirks to good use. Here, Cage’s mild-mannered Nathan Gardner expectedly ‘loses it’ over the course of Color Out of Space. Yes, it’s another ‘Full Cage’ outing except it’s jarringly out of place here. Throughout Color Out of Space, Stanley has meticulously crafted a surreal, tense experience. Cage is a gifted actor, but his off-the-rails performance often tonally clashes with Stanley’s movie.
…it’s another ‘Full Cage’ outing except it’s jarringly out of place here.
Though some audiences will enjoy Cage going ‘Full Cage, Madeleine Arthur turns in the stand-out performance in Color Out of Space. Her Lavinia, while eccentric, is instantly relatable. It’s her journey through the Gardner’s increasing nightmare that draws you in. Arthur shows a great deal of charisma and range in her performance. While Joely Richardson (Event Horizon) and Brendan Meyer are equally good, Arthur commands the screen. By the movie’s conclusion, Lavinia’s character arc has the most lasting emotional impact.
Color Out of Space Takes You From Dream to Nightmare
Overall, Color Out of Space makes a welcome return to feature filmmaking for Richard Stanley. He’s clearly well-suited to Lovecraft’s cosmic horror, crafting an atmospheric, dreamy experience. Though there’s a smaller budget at play, Color Out of Space, even with its misshapen oddities, never looks ‘cheap’. Enjoy another ‘Full Cage’ performance, lose yourself in Lovecraft’s story of a helpless family facing an unknowable evil, or let the gorgeous visuals hypnotize you. Regardless of what you take away, Color Out of Space is a haunting effort and one of the better Lovecraft adaptations.