In the early 20th century, Howard Phillips Lovecraft, or H.P. Lovecraft, was writing stories of cosmic horror, madness, and incomprehensible evil. He created a pantheon of monsters such as Cthulhu that lurk on the periphery of our understanding. His stories, that often reflect his poor racial politics, have terrified audiences for decades and have inspired a slew of adaptations across mediums. The latest addition to Lovecraftian horror is Richard Stanley’s COLOR OUT OF SPACE, which marks the director’s glorious return to horror after 25 years. His film successfully captures the madness of Lovecraft’s work and is a dazzling modern interpretation.
The Gardners are a family of five living on a secluded farm near Arkham, Massachusetts. Father Nathan (Nicolas Cage), mother Theresa (Joely Richardson), and kids Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur), Benny (Brendan Meyer), and Jack (Julian Hilliard) recently moved to Nathan’s family farm, getting away from city life and pivoting for something a little slower. Their lifestyle appears idyllic, aside from the routine arguments between teenagers and their parents; alpacas freely roam, everything is a beautiful shade of green, and the house is a massive playground. However, the Gardners’ lives are flipped upside down when a meteor crashes into their farm. It unleashes a color that has no name, but appears to be a shade somewhere between pink and purple. The contents of the meteor seep into the land, transforming the landscape and those that live in it. New species of plants grow, the grass turns pink, and mammals twist into horrific shapes. The Gardner family begins a collective descent into madness as they try to comprehend what’s happening to them and if they can do anything to stop it.
Many cinematic adaptations of Lovecraft’s work often focus on his tentacled monsters and Elder Gods. These films are subpar creature features that go for gore above all else. However, Stanley chose to adapt one of Lovecraft’s more abstract works that does not focus on a monster, but rather a strange color that drives the Gardners crazy. There are horrific moments of body horror, but it is primarily a tale of the incomprehensible and the effects that has on the mind.
Of course, a movie about going mad is perfect for Nicolas Cage, particularly after his performance in MANDY. In COLOR OUT OF SPACE, Cage appears to be a domesticated version of himself, decked out in flannel and a vest that screams, “I tell dad jokes ad nauseum.” Even before the meteor’s influence leeches into his brain, Cage is ever so slightly unhinged, particularly in his obsession with alpacas, or as he calls them, the animals of the future. Cage shines in a role that lets him lean into comedy and horror at the same time.
COLOR OUT OF SPACE is much funnier than anticipated. Witty one-liners fall out of Lavinia’s mouth, and Tommy Chong makes a guest appearance as the hermit stoner. However, the comedy is not always effective. It feels right in the film’s beginning as we are getting to know the family. But, once everything starts to fall apart and the real horrors reveal themselves, the comedy is still awkwardly present. This isn’t a horror comedy, but it sometimes feels like it wants to be. Comedy distracts from the horrors befalling the Gardner family.
Many of the visual effects are gorgeous, successfully creating a color that seems to deny description. However, Stanley takes a few too many pages out of John Carpenter’s book in his practical effects. The gore is still effective, but certain moments look practically like shot-for-shot recreations of THE THING. These moments are particularly disappointing, as Stanley seems capable of original design.
The cherry on top of the madness is Colin Stetson’s score. His strange and macabre tones shaped Ari Aster’s HEREDITARY, and now his talents continue to be utilized to create perfect horror scores. His unique saxophone techniques create a cacophony of tones that makes you feel like you’re also going crazy. But at the same time, the music also captures the awe of beholding such wonderful and terrible colors. This unity of emotions through music round out a movie filled to the brim with intensity.
COLOR OUT OF SPACE holds nothing back. Stanley enthusiastically dives into his source material to create a dazzling technicolor nightmare, complete with deranged alpacas. He utilizes his cast to their full potential, especially Cage, to create a harrowing portrayal of a family falling apart physically and mentally. Lovecraft is notoriously hard to adapt, but Stanley walks the fine line between horror and existential dread to create a successful adaptation. Get ready to sink into a beautiful madness with COLOR OUT OF SPACE.
Tags: Colin Stetson, Daniel Noah, elijah wood, H.P. Lovecraft, Horror, Joely Richardson, Josh C. Waller, Lisa Whalen, Madeleine Arthur, Nicolas Cage, Q'orianka Kilcher, richard stanley, RLJE Films, Scarlett Amaris, SpectreVision, Steve Annis, TIFF, Tommy Chong, Toronto International Film Festival, XYZ Films