Let's get this out of the way- Nicolas Cage is in Color Out of Space. That will be an attraction for some, a repellent for others, and some will go to see the "Cage-Rage.” One thing should be clear, he is the perfect actor for the role of Nathan Gardner, but it's not his movie. That honor belongs to another cast member...
...The other big talking point on this film will be how this is director Richard Stanley’s first feature-length film following his uncredited directorial efforts on Island Of Dr. Moreau. Color Out Of Space is a beautiful return, albeit not a perfect film.
Color Out Of Space tells the tale of the Gardners, a family that has relocated to a secluded house in the middle of the woods, once owned by Nathan’s (Cage) late father. Here we are introduced to the family - Nathan’s wife, Theresa (Joely Richardson), their eldest, Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur), their middle child Benny (Brendan Meyer) and their youngest, Jack (Julian Hilliard). This family at once seems believable, and yet something is off. Each family member is dealing with the fact that the matriarch of the family has cancer, and most likely won’t get better even though this is not referenced outside of the opening scene. They find a way to either neglect or actively resist this fact. Theresa deals with it by working all the time in the attic as if nothing has changed and is constantly frustrated by the internet. Nathan moves forward with his Alpacas farm because they are the “animal of the future”. Benny spends most of his time getting high by himself or with the ward of the property Ezra (Tommy Chong) while Jack seems to be the least aware of it, but spends a lot of his time with stuffed animals and outside at the well (which is the family's water source). The performance by Hilliard and the eventual events lead one to believe he has a better understanding than the rest.
The star of the film is by far Lavinia, who we meet first, in the midst of a ritual to attempt to rid cancer away from her mother’s body. It’s a touching scene that is intentionally led to make you feel out of place and time because when tragedy strikes slowly, things often feel off-kilter. Her other focus is diving deep into books like the Necronomicon, which at once is a tribute to Lovecraft himself, and also acts as a vessel to her pursuit of a greater truth through the arcane. Arthur’s performance before and after the events that not only shake but ultimately change the family is the emotional grounding and the biggest insight into Stanley’s personal journey of losing his own loved one. Each cast member brings a sense of gravitas and weight to the film, but this is Lavinia’s movie, through and through.
In Lovecraft’s tale about a meteor that unleashes a strange phenomena on an unsuspecting family, the narrator is the one who observes the meteorite crashing down outside of the Gardner’s house, eventually leading to chilling changes to the family, as they attempt to fight the extraterrestrial invaders that are impacting them internally. The narrator that is used in Color Out Of Space is an attempt to make this the most faithful adaptation of Lovecraft’s work. Stanley uses a water surveyor, Ward Phillips (Elliot Knight) as the outside perspective for the viewer. The need to include this character, who goes in and out of the story so much, is ultimately a distraction from the power of the rest of the film. Knight himself does a good job, but for a character that is only used because there is a narrator in the short story, it does no justice to the film.
The music is also a bit of a let down in this reviewer’s mind. Colin Stetson is a powerful composer and one should check out his music on its own, as it is a powerhouse in structure and style. Yet the score is left behind more times than not with Color Out of Space. Still, in a film of this nature, these are only small complaints. Ones that do not detract from the overall mark this film has to potentially impact audiences with a rich and rewarding experience.
The cosmic horror elements of the film are at once terrifying and beautiful and are deserving of all the praise. In particular, the colors are so intense and vivid as they continue to grow and change the scenery, slipping the setting into madness and diving deeper into the horror. The film does not rely on jump scares or musical cues. Instead, the viewer is thrust into a world of chaos where every moment things seem to be coming apart at the seams. The fabric of reality seems to be slipping away from the Gardner's and the viewers are left to watch as color attacks the screen with a vicious will, adding further strangeness to the horrific body horror in the film, and feels purely Lovecraftian.
Though the horror elements are the driving force of the film, where Color Out of Space truly shines is in the emotive world which is displayed early on in a touching scene between Nathan and Theresa where they discuss the changes in their lives, without discussing the real issues at hand. It’s a very human moment, and it’s these quiet moments that make the film stand out. The tender side of things gives room for the actors to dive into the intensity that is called for once the horror begins.
The “Cage rage” might be a reason some show-up, but it’s the ensemble cast led by Madeleine Arthur that carries the emotional weight of loss and change which is only amplified by the cosmic nature of Lovecraft’s tale. The way in which the film explores the acceleration of change and how that rips control away in such a vibrant and horrific way could very well just be a metaphor for the loss one cannot control, and given Stanley’s own very public attention to loss, and change, it just makes Color Out Of Space an even more powerful and personal journey. Though the film’s need to portray a complete version of a Lovecraft adaptation hinders the overall flow of the film, imagining a young Richard Stanley being read the story of Colour Out Of Space makes the need to adapt the story even more beautiful, and easier to forgive the slight bumps in the road. Color Out Of Space is a simultaneously beautiful and terrifying film and one that should find its audience whether or not they have an interest in Lovecraft.
Color Out Of Space crashes into limited theaters on January 24th, 2020 from SpectreVision and on Bluray and 4K Ultra HD on February 25th, 2020.
By Justin Drabek
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