Color Out of Space Review
After the cult success of Mandy in 2018, Nicolas Cage’s distinctive brand of chaos found a new niche: cosmic horror. The particular type of energy the actor brings to the screen often goes under-utilised, but with the release of Color Out of Space, it seems like it has a home. This time the film is not just Lovecraftian, but a straight-up adaptation of one of H. P. Lovecraft’s short stories.
Nathan (Cage) and his family have recently moved to an isolated rural farm, where he hopes to grow food and raise alpacas while his wife Theresa (Joely Richardson) recovers from surgery. Meanwhile, his daughter Lavinia (memorably played by Madeleine Arthur) takes up Wiccan practices in an attempt to heal her mother and commune with something greater. After a meteorite, glowing a colour Nathan “hasn’t seen before”, strange things start to happen in the area. Sometimes it’s the water, sometimes it’s an unusual piercing sound, but it quickly escalates into something more horrific; transforming their world beyond recognition.
In many ways, it’s a science fiction variant on the haunted house story. There are few surprises as to where the story goes - at least, at first. It’s not surprising to see the family dog reacting to something unseen, or a young child’s communication with the supernatural dismissed as imagination run wild (Julian Hilliard even repeats many of the same scenes he performed in The Haunting of Hill House), but the unsettling score and sound design make for something much more absorbing than the tropes it wields.
Director Richard Stanley also brings some striking aesthetic flourishes to a script that otherwise could have become hackneyed. Dealing with unimaginable terrors in a domestic setting requires a delicate balance between showing too much or too little; a line that the director navigates with the appropriate restraint.
Stanley's influences are clear as day, with some sequences clearly taking inspiration from John Carpenter’s The Thing, shades of The Endless’ reality-bending endeavours cropping up, and more than a little Poltergeist in its DNA. Most of all, it recalls 2018’s Annihilation, another surreal science-fiction film that challenged its characters’ sense of self after they cross a boundary into the unknown. It's worth mentioning these influences, as they are key to Color Out of Space's strengths and shortcomings. Sometimes they feel like a blessing, an unusual mash-up of the vivid and the overdone. Other times, they reveal how much the movie is in need of its own distinctive voice.
As far as extras go, the Blu-ray is pretty thin on the ground. While the film itself is beautifully rendered, with both audio and visuals exceeding expectations - there are no special features in the form of commentaries, behind-the-scenes footage or supplementary material on the disc. It’s still worth a buy for anyone with an interest in cosmic horror and - like me, happy to see some ambitious adaptations of Lovecraft’s universe. Given how much of the film relies on its trippy visuals and atmospheric score, the Blu-ray is an easy buy.
This is Stanley’s first feature film since The Island of Dr. Moreau in 1996, which had an infamously troubled production. It’s a strong return to the fold, and while it might not quite establish a firm identity amidst a cavalcade of influences, Stanley’s suggestion that this could be the first of a trilogy of Lovecraft adaptations is more than welcome.
Color Out of Space is released on Blu-ray and DVD on 6th April
Color Out of Space (2019)
Dir: Richard Stanley | Cast: Elliot Knight, Joely Richardson, Madeleine Arthur, Nicolas Cage | Writers: H.P. Lovecraft (based on the short story by), Richard Stanley (screenplay), Scarlett Amaris