Color Out of Space is a 2019 adaptation of the H.P. Lovecraft story by the same name. It’s the first film from director Richard Stanely since his failed attempt at The Island of Doctor Moreau. It also stars Nicolas Cage.
So of course I saw this film.
Color Out of Space introduces us to Nathan (Nicolas Cage) and his family. The family is currently living out in a house in the Arkham woods; their life coming across as ideal. It doesn’t take long (or even the unknown cosmic event) for the audience to start seeing the cracks in the family’s relationships. Instead of working through the after effects of Theresa’s (Joely Richardson) cancer diagnosis they live cut off from the world in a sense of stasis. This is a family that is unfamiliar with their dynamic, and instead of repairing it, they ignore it. Each family member falling into their own distractions. Nathan with his alpacas, Theresa with her work, Benny (Brendan Meyer) with space videos and weed and Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur) with magic. The youngest Jack (Julian Hillard) is the least distracted so when things go weird he’s the first affected.
Also deserving a mention is Elliot Knight’s Ward Philips, your standard Lovecraftian protagonist. He is the one who is recounting the events of the film. He’s the straight man, the one who tries to apply logic to the illogical.
Space gives the audience just enough time to get to know the characters before it dives into the unknowable. When an asteroid crashes onto the family’s property, their environment and themselves slowly begin to shift. It is in these moments that the film really shines. The film shows the slow transformation of their environment and doesn’t outright acknowledge it until it is too late.
The performances by the cast were great. I loved the relationship between the siblings. Especially Lavinia and Benny. Their interactions felt natural to me. There was the expected sibling rivalry and the constant jabs at one another. But when things got serious you could see how much they cared about one another as they tried to save each other. Yet as expected it is Cage who steals the show. Cage went from awkward distracted Dad to offbeat in the way only he can. His performance reminded me of the 1988 Cage masterpiece Vampire’s Kiss. After a little research I found out that that was exactly the performance Stanley wanted out of him. Cage delivers his lines in a sing-songy lisp of a fake (maybe it’s British) accent. He’s hypnotic and unpredictable.
Color Out of Space falls into some of the traps that all cosmic horror films tend to fall into. This is a genre that plays on dread, the unknowable and your lack of importance in the universe. It’s both a very broad and very personal genre. Sometimes that doesn’t translate well on the screen. The film mostly gets around this by not directly showing the audience things. Instead leaving them up to your imagination to insert something that would be much worse. But this can’t always be the case. Eventually the film has to give you something and these moments sometimes fell flat. They came across as cheesey and tonally off from the rest of the film. It clearly wasn’t the intention.
At one point members of the family stare straight into the malevolent force that has been tormenting them for the past few nights. This is an important moment, and there was no way to get around showing it. The scene hit weird with the audience and there were a few awkward chuckles. But within moments everyone was invested again and the story rolled on.
Color Out of Space stays true to the tone of the genre. Though there are clear homages to other horror films (like The Thing), the film never gives in to the temptation of making this a creature feature. Don’t walk into this film expecting to see a family being chased around by a creature with an unknowable amount of tentacles. At it’s heart, the Color Out of Space is a story of family dysfunction, and how left unchecked long enough it will destroy you from the inside out. The film is faithful to the downer ending that so many cosmic horror stories are known for. It asks the question which is worse: death or living with your eyes open to your true meaningless place in the universe?
With Color Out of Space Stanley proves that adaptions of Lovecraft can be achieved. With the film he hints at a possible Lovecraftian multiverse, Lavinia’s copy of the Necronomicon, the mention of familiar town names, Ward’s Miskatonic University gear and the super deep cut that was Algernon Blackwood book being read by one of the characters. Stanley is also one to acknowledge that despite his deep love for Lovecraft, the man and his fiction has his flaws. He saw his film as a response to them.
At this time there is no wide release date for the film. Color Out of Space has been picked up by RLJE, so a theatrical release (and hopefully a trailer) will be announced soon. The film is making its rounds at festivals though. If you have a chance go and give it a watch, especially if you’re a fan of cosmic horror. Or Nicolas Cage. They are a match made in heaven.