H.P. Lovecraft is one of the most iconic names in horror fiction creating countless creatures throughout his time that have captured the imagination. I’m genuinely surprised that in the modern day more of his creations are not brought to the big screen with Cthulhu probably being the one exception. Thanks to screenwriter and director Richard Stanley however, Lovecraft’s work is finally getting some big screen love as the filmmaker plans to create a trilogy of Lovecraft adaptations starting with his 2019 TIFF entry “Color Out of Space”. Released to the public in an extremely limited theatrical run back in January and currently available on demand, “Color Out of Space” is based on Lovecraft’s short story of the same name and stars Nicholas Cage, Joely Richardson, Madeleine Arthur, Brendan Meyer and Julian Hilliard as a rural farm family who come into contact with an otherworldly entity that challenges both their sanity and the limits of reality. After seeing Cage in “Mandy” a few years ago, and hearing the same producers were behind this film, I was genuinely excited to see how he would act in a Lovecraft adaptation and with Stanley’s respect for the source material in mind I considered this a must see. So, is this the mind-bending sci-fi horror experience that was promised, or does it fail to do justice to Lovecraft’s legendary work? You know the drill by now…here is my review of “Color Out of Space”.
“Color out of Space” is…unique to say the least. In so many ways it’s not a film for the faint of heart or for anyone who believes they know what to expect which can be both a good and bad thing depending on the viewer. In a lot of ways “Color Out of Space” captures the disturbing and uncomfortable atmosphere and imagery Lovecraft was known for although instead of leaving the details to the imagination we actually get to see one person’s interpretations of these visuals. The film focuses on the Gardner family who move to a rural farm after the family matriarch, Joely Richardson’s Theresa, undergoes a mastectomy. At first the family seems pretty tight knit with Nicholas Cage leading the way as a passive father while Madeleine Arthur portrays the daughter Levinia, who practices witchcraft, and Brandan Meyer and Julian Hilliard play the two sons. Altogether this is a pretty nice cast who all seem pretty solidly on board in bringing this strange experience to life with a little bit of B-movie flair. Tommy Chong and Elliot Knight also play major roles completing a cast of interesting and memorably odd characters who are at the center of this mind-bender.
The twist in the story is that all of these characters find their lives turned upside down when a mysterious meteor lands on Earth releasing a shapeless entity on the farm, one that possesses the ability to alter realities including the creepy tendency to merge living things into single abominations and always makes its presence known through an eerie purple glow. The use of color in this film is probably the most artistic element of the production as purple, by nature, is a mysterious color that can be related to magic as well as both good and evil making it among the most neutral colors on the spectrum. Pink serves as a welcoming compliment to lighten up the purple. It felt like a symbolic way of showing how the entity is neither inherently good or evil but rather acting on its own instinct with no set intention for destruction or creation. The narrative does veer from Lovecraft’s famed story by taking things a step further than simple insanity. This iteration of the story actually reminded me heavily of one of my favorite sci-fi movies of the last decade, “Annihilation”, as the titular Color is both beautiful and destructive and each member of the Gardner family is forced to undergo either mental breakdowns or physical transformations that are among the most disturbing images sci-fi horror has produced in some time. It’s all capped off, of course, with outstanding Nicholas Cage craziness as his own character loses his grip on reality and sanity.
If this sounds like too much for you, well then don’t watch the film because from start to finish “Color Out of Space” is built to mess with your mind and perception and embrace the B-movie aesthetic while managing to feel likes a genuinely artsy kind of movie. I will say I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it or how to embrace it at first because it contains many shifting tones and appears to purposefully position itself as a genuine oddity in modern filmmaking. Movies like that can be a huge turnoff for people looking for a more simple and straight forward experience and even for me while I compare it positively to the absolutely excellent “Annihilation” this movie felt more pretentious and weird for the sake of being weird than something made with actual symbolic purpose. But it’s the weirdness and strangeness that kept me invested. I wasn’t sure what to make of it so I found myself glued to the screen looking for answers that would never come and by the end of it I actually appreciated that I had to think about what it all meant.
Even then though my biggest gripe with this film is that it’s so…damn…slow. A lot of my investment came from the unknown and my patience to wait and see where it was all headed, but it takes SO long to get there that I can see this movie testing the patience of many viewers. At 111 minutes, or just under two hours, “Color Out of Space” felt like a full 2.5-hour experience. If it wasn’t for my innate curiosity of where everything was headed and the beautifully strange and disturbing imagery and literal character transformations this would have been a true chore to sit through. It’s the kind of movie that doesn’t really care for your willingness to self-invest, either you’re along for the ride or your getting off early and the movie, or Stanley, doesn’t care. In some ways that’s okay as it shows Stanley’s uncompromising dedication to his craft and the picture he wanted to paint, but other films have managed to take similar approaches and still be a fun movie for any viewer to behold. In recent years the aforementioned “Annihilation” and “Mandy” as well as films like “The Dead Don’t Die” and “The Lighthouse” were all slow burns in their own right that offered enough to satisfy those who wanted to dig deep into their theming while those just looking for engaging cinematic escapism could sit back and embrace the fun as well. “Color Out of Space” is so uncompromising that it shuns those who don’t want to embrace its weirdness, which is something I usually respect. Unlike past movies of this caliber “Color Out of Space” wears its pretentiousness on its sleeve opposed to other arthouse sci-fi or horror movies that managed to be uncompromising without an an innate sense of pretentiousness. Their respect was earned whereas with “Color Out of Space” it feels demanded and that can be extremely annoying to both the general viewer and those with a respect for artistic quality.
Needless to say at this point, but “Color Out of Space” is not for everyone. However, if you have the patience it’s definitely a unique experience. Packed with some fun B-movie charm, performances that are decently engaging and enough strangeness to leave you thinking about what you just say well beyond the credits, this does kind of feel like something that H.P. Lovecraft would have at least respected. Richard Stanley obviously went into this with certain goals in mind and a vision he refused to compromise. While those with little patience for slow burns or an aversion to body horror might not enjoy “Color Out of Space” those with an eye for arthouse horror or artistic science fiction should find enough to appreciate even if other movies have managed to find a more solid balance between being entertaining and intriguing. Overall “Color Out of Space” was certainly, well, something else and even now after watching it a few times I can’t really summarize it all in a review. What I can do though is call it a solid passion project that might not hit all the right marks but has me intrigued as to what else this supposed soon-to-be-trilogy of Lovecraftian features has to offer.