Director Richard Stanley returns to narrative filmmaking after over 20 years with Color Out of Space, a hypnotic H.P. Lovecraft adaptation. Published in 1927, the story is one of Lovecraft’s most popular works and is said to be his favorite of his short stories. Stanley brings his love for Lovecraft into the film and adds his own personal flair to the tale, creating a unique and inventive experience.
Starring Nicolas Cage (Mandy), Joely Richardson (Event Horizon), Madeleine Arthur (The Magicians), Brendan Meyer (The Guest), Julian Hilliard (The Haunting of Hill House), Elliot Knight (Once Upon a Time), and Tommy Chong (of Cheech and Chong fame), Color Out of Space follows the Gardner family as a meteorite crashes on their farm. This space rock emits an indescribable color that affects all life nearby in mysterious and terrifying ways. Soon, the family is left to fend for their very lives as the color spreads across their land, leaving chaos in its wake.
Cosmic Lovecraftian horror can be a challenge as the monster effects are key. If you ask any horror fan, they’ll gladly tell you that practical effects are always preferable. Thankfully, Stanley uses practical effects for the most horrific moments in the film, which is truly appreciated.
Reminiscent of Rob Bottin’s creature designs for The Thing, the monsters of Color Out of Space are quite effective. CGI effects are layered over top of the practical effects to enhance them with the titular color, however, in some instances the amount of CGI use overshadows the practical effect so it’s difficult to tell what was physically made.
For the most part, Color Out of Space hits some of the narrative beats from the original short story, though certain changes have been made with varying effect. Naturally some shifts have occurred that affect the development of the plot, though there are also some ancillary adjustments that change the film’s overall tone.
Rather than a collection of generic livestock, the family’s farm is populated by a herd of alpacas. More often than not, these alpacas serve as a punchline which can be distracting as they make every scene they’re in a bit silly (because alpacas are naturally kind of absurd).
Multiple characters are combined into one hydrologist who serves as a scientific catch-all whenever knowledge is needed. It’s a bit odd that a hydrologist would be consulted for the discovery of a meteorite, or would know what radiation burns look like, but it’s best not to dwell on it… the man knows his science.
There are a few other narrative seeds planted that don’t really grow into anything and could be cut out entirely without affecting the film at all. They add to character development, but are generally unnecessary as there are other ways to build the audience’s relationship with and understanding of these characters without needless filler.
What’s more jarring is the fact that each actor seems to be working in a different movie. Performances are all over the place in terms of tone with varying degrees of intensity. Nicolas Cage takes center stage in one of his most cagey performances to date, alternating between dowdy farmer (slash bourbon connoisseur) and full-blown bonkers on a hairpin trigger. When facing an unhinged Cage, the actors deliver their dialogue with such sincerity that it can be quite comical, though it’s unclear if this is always intentional. The cast can’t match his eccentricity and don’t try to, so as an end result, the energy is very uneven.
As a Lovecraft adaptation, Color Out of Space is fine. It’s not overwhelmingly good or bad, though it might not be what you expect when you hear the combination of Lovecraft, Nic Cage, and Richard Stanley. It’s hypnotically entertaining — particularly for its Cage-isms — but overall it could be more cohesive.
Color Out of Space strays outside the lines to draw its own unique picture, and the end result is a bit messy. The film has already been acquired by RJLE Films ahead of its Midnight Madness world premiere. But the real question is, will audiences buy it?