Up until this year, my exposure to H.P. Lovecraft was rather limited, mainly to those beloved Stuart Gordon films of yesteryear (Re-Animator, From Beyond),but just as the new Lovecraft adaptation, Color Out of Space, was released earlier this year, I was taking my first deep dive in to a 20-story collection of Lovecraft’s “best”.
And in my top three stories, wouldn’t you know it, we find Colour Out of Space – the source material for this Nicolas Cage vehicle. (For those interested, the other two stories in my top three, The Shadow Over Innsmouth and At the Mountains of Madness).
Directed and co-written by genre legend Richard Stanley (Hardware), here’s the scoop:
Nathan Gardner (Oscar-winner Nicolas Cage, Leaving Las Vegas) and his wife Theresa (Nip/Tuck’s Joely Richardson) have recently left behind the big city for a quieter existence on his late father’s farm in rural New England. Their three children: Lavinia (Madeleine Carter of the Snowpiercer series), Benny (Brendan Meyer) and little Jack (The Haunting of Hill House’s Julian Hilliard), help tend to the alpacas, lamenting their family’s annoying isolation.
This simple lifestyle quickly changes when a young college student / hydrologist from Miskatonic University (for you Lovecraft aficionados) named Ward (Elliot Knight) shows up to conduct some water tests to prepare for a possible flooding of the valley and a planned reservoir. His arrival coincides with an otherworldly meteorite slamming into the farm’s vast lawn. Within moments, a strange pink iridescence (there’s that titular color) spreads over the property from the impact crater – affecting time, the physicality of any living creature and the minds of this family and those they encounter.
As of late, Nicolas Cage has been making a name for himself in indie horror. Bat-shit crazy Mandy and the spectacular Mom and Dad immediately come to mind. And Cage’s reputation for “out there” performances and acting choices, is certainly warranted. And in some of these projects these outrageous choices fit well. Color Out of Space was seemingly made for his inherent kookiness. As things quickly deteriorate, physically and mentally for the Gardner family, Cage’s line deliveries move into that “over-the-top” territory. Of note, his delivery of “Alpacas! Alpacas!” are a worthy partner to his screams of “Not the bees!” in The Wicker Man remake from a few years back.
Richardson brings an air of – how should I put this? – respectability to the proceedings. Not that the rest of the cast aren’t fantastic or that this is a low-brow film but having someone like her and the impressive baggage of her acting lineage sorta lifts it up a bit. Who would have expected to see the daughter of Vanessa Redgrave in a weirdo film like this? Then again, her sister Natasha Richardson was in the “what the heck is this?” Ken Russell film, Gothic in 1987. And now that I think of it, her mother was in another Russell insanity-laced classic, The Devils. Okay, so I spoke too soon.
And she’s not just lending her family name, she genuinely delivers – notably in some very make-up heavy, dreadful and emotional moments late in the film. Finding and then engaging in the places where Theresa had to go could not have been easy for any actor.
She and Cage have a genuine connection as the heads of this household and something they recently endured as a family makes one tense exchange (when things start to get crazy) absolutely heartbreaking and jaw-dropping.
Performances from the three young actors in the roles of the Gardner children are all great. They bicker. They do what typical siblings do but you believe them when they come together in light of the recent strange events. A specific call-out to Carter as Lavinia. She nails each moment, from her early semi-bored incantations to her teen angst to the absolute horror she must eventually face in the family attic.
Again, very strong acting work from this gifted ensemble.
Oh, and there should be mention of, in the supporting role of Ezra (a hippy dude who “squats” on the family’s property, and is thus involved in the chaos), we find Tommy Chong. His appearances are brief but certainly memorable, if not out of line from what we’d expect.
The visual effects here are simply mind-bending, but delicious. There are otherworldly critters and some mutations straight out of Carpenter’s The Thing. But the dazzling light show on display here, certainly once you reach the breathless climax, will throw you into a potential seizure of eye candy goodness. The production design’s use of color and the slow spread of the color and its nasty effects is exactly as I envisioned it while reading the original story.
As to how this adaptation lines up with the original story I feel as though it hit all of the right notes even though these characters exist a full century away from the characters in the original piece. So we have to deal with modern amenities like cell phones, televisions and the like. But what Stanley and his team truly got right was the feeling Lovecraft captured. Doesn’t matter how you mix things up to make it current, you gotta hang on to that unease and mind-boggling weirdness.
But the real star here as far as having an immense emotional impact: the special makeup effects, and how they are used to move the story ahead, notably, one particular abomination must be discussed.
It seems I’ve softened in my old age (see my editorial from a few weeks back for more insights into this condition), and things which, maybe twenty years ago, I might have screamed with perverse delight over their creative ghoulishness – now just don’t sit well.
And there were an agonizing couple of moments, toward the center of the film, where I began to feel legitimately unwell. Nausea, sweating and just overall malaise began to take over my body, when the film revealed what we knew was coming. I shan’t spoil it here but know that if you have a weak constitution for extremely well done and unflinching body horror displayed on-screen, then consider this fair warning.
The film wisely takes its time to finally offer what we hope won’t, but know will eventually come to light, which makes the anticipation almost as unbearable as what we finally are made to witness.
Lovecraft is famous for his cosmic horrors, many of which are considered simply too horrible and unspeakable for human eyes and minds to comprehend, and with this aforementioned “abomination”, the team behind Color Out of Space delivers just that.
Truly, these images haunted me for days after. And not only for the masterworks of effects on display, but for the primally unsettling concept.
Vague enough for you? Again, watch at your own risk. It. Is. Not. Easy.
Strong performances, crazy good effects, eye-popping visuals and enough cosmic horror to satisfy the most ravenous Lovecraft fans, Color Out of Space is an absolute winner.
The film is now available for streaming on Shudder and on other services. You can also pick it up on Blu-ray/DVD. And you can bet that I’ll add this to my physical media collection… just keeping in mind that certain sections may have to be fast-forwarded upon any additional views.
I don’t need those images re-seared into my brain, thank you very much. Eek.