Color Out of Space is the new film from Elijah Wood, Daniel Noah and Josh C Waller’s production house, SpectreVision, which has previously brought us the likes of A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, The Greasy Strangler and last year’s feral rage monster, Mandy. Adapted from the short story of the same name, the apparent personal favourite of legendary horror author Howard Phillips Lovecraft, Color Out of Space finds eccentric cult director Richard Stanley team up with a resurgent Nicolas Cage to deliver their take on H.P.’s famous tale of cosmic horror.
Nathan (Cage) and Theresa Gardner (Joely Richardson) are living the dream. Having escaped the pressures of city life, they have retreated to their new country pile to enjoy the simple things in life. Together with their children, Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur) and Benny (Brendan Meyer), and hippie squatter Ezra (Tommy Chong) who lives at the bottom of their garden, their lifestyle is more-or-less idyllic. Nathan farms alpacas, Theresa conducts her financial business from her office and the kids want to live somewhere less boring.
Things take a dramatic turn overnight, when a glowing, fluorescent pink meteorite strikes the ground in front of their house. Initially paying it little mind, bar some local media interest, the family soon starts to realise the meteorite is having an effect on everything around them. As the meteorite is absorbed by the soil its influence slowly reaches out to contaminate the plant life, the animals and space-time itself.
Anyone expecting another Mandy will not find it in Color Out of Space. Like the meteor-warped livestock, this is a completely different animal. Nicolas Cage is more restrained, although still somewhat wild, and the early tone is more comedic. Cage is in middle-aged dork Dad mode and it’s a role he relishes, but with a little less abandon than he’s capable of.
Color Out of Space sees Richard Stanley returning to the director’s chair for his first feature film (excluding documentaries and a horror anthology segment) since 1996’s infamous Island of Dr Moreau, from which he was fired. Moreau was filmed in Australia (in Queensland) and featured Marlon Brando in one of his final appearances. So it’s either a sly dig at his Moreau experience, or a tribute to the screen legend, when Stanley includes a Brando movie playing on the family’s TV. Although anyone who’s seen David Gregory’s excellent documentary Lost Souls: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau will be able to conclude which of the two is most likely.
Visually, Color Out of Space is a delight. As the landscape and its inhabitants become aggressively perverted by the alien taxa, Stanley treats us to some gorgeously febrile visuals with the kind of neon candy-floss pinks and throbbing deep-sea purples that Nicholas Winding Refn probably thinks he trademarked. Initially Color Out of Space lets us reminisce fondly over Chuck Russell’s The Blob, before taking us on a vibrant, psychedelic journey that offers the kind of kaleidoscopic eye-candy Saul Bass was shooting for in the classic ants VS humanity mindbender, Phase IV.
Otherwise we’ve got a horror potpourri going on here with loving cinematic Eucharist given to The Thing, The Void, The Mist and everything Stuart Gordon has ever made in his life. That’s no bad thing, and if you’re going to get involved in the H.P. Lovecraft Cinematic Universe (yes, that exists, I’m claiming that now!) you might as well tip your hat to his greatest fan. Stuart Gordon’s berserk, loose interpretations are jazz fusion Lovecraft – getting the feel, if not all the notes. Taking H.P.’s yarns of creeping dread and mashing them into full bore splatter madness. Re-animator is the rightful king but From Beyond holds its own as a deranged body horror masterpiece, with one particular creature in Color Out Of Space owing it a sizeable debt.
There’s a lot of nice Lovecraftian detail going on too, from the Necronomicon on Lavinia’s bedside table, to the towns from other stories mentioned in a weather report, to the Miskatonic University t-shirt worn by the surveyor Ward (Elliot Knight).
But while there’s a fair bit to like about Color Out of Space, there is a downside. By the end, we are left feeling a bit like it never kicked off. There are several occasions where the film appears to be ready to escalate, but calms itself down instead. So rather than a giddy ride toward an unhinged conclusion, we have a series of peaks and troughs that unfortunately knock the wind out of its sails.
If all you need is Cage barking loudly about alpacas, then Color Out of Space has you solidly covered. But with the pedigree of all involved, the rest of us might be forgiven for expecting a little bit more. Something wilder. Something that connects a little better.
Still, even though Color Out of Space might not entirely meet expectation, hats are off to a movie that’s based on a 92-year-old story, and yet feels original and interesting. There’s no bad guy, no antagonist. Just a bunch of weird stuff happening. It’s the sort of horror movie we should all be making time for: Color Out of Space aims high and gets most (if not quite all) of its reward.