Having been burned out by the studio system after his firing from the 1996 disaster “The Island of Dr. Moreau”, filmmaker Richard Stanley (“Hardwire”, “Dust Devil”) has maintained a quiet filmmaking resume over the past couple of decades. Despite some minimal documentaries here and there, Stanley has not made a feature length film over in 20 years. However, the idiosyncratic filmmaker returns after his extended break. His latest film “Color Out of Space”, an adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s classic short story of the same name, is a cosmic fever dream that excels in bringing out the best of its source material.
When a mysterious meteorite crashes down on a family’s farm, the family find themselves seemingly infected by an extraterrestrial organism that mutates everything in its path, transforming their home into a nightmarish landscape. We witness the family’s mental state and their literal surroundings deteriorate over time as they begin to fear everything and each other.
In a performance that will be unfairly compared to his turn in the 2018 film, “Mandy”, Nicolas Cage operates at near “Vampire’s Kiss” level of gonzo Cage-ness and he is a glorious sight to behold. As a father who perhaps enjoys his bourbon a tad too much and consistently second guesses his decision to buy a pack of alpacas that serve little to no purpose, Cage goes all out in the zaniness fans hope to see from him in unique genre fare like this. What makes his performance work though, isn’t only his moments of over-the-top camp, but the contrast between the good-natured father we see him as for most of the first half, but when the family begins to deteriorate from the meteorite and are slowly driven insane. By the time Cage begins to rant about alpacas, you’ll truly feel the hysteria the characters are experiencing.
Joely Richardson does solid work as the family’s workaholic mother. Madeleine Arthur and Brendan Meyer are compelling as the older siblings as is Julian Hilliard as the vulnerable youngest sibling. Tommy Chong also makes a brief appearance as a local conspiracy theorist who might know what is happening to the family.
As a product of more underground horror fare from the late 80’s, Stanley infuses some trademark practical effects from the era that give “Color Out of Space” a timeless quality to it. Stanley delves deep into the bleak undertones of Lovecraft’s material. The hopelessness of the situation is accentuated by the relentless fear of the unknown. We don’t know what this organism is or what it wants — if it wants anything — but we know it’s not harmless. The lingering dread that hangs over the film is thick and palpable, making the films slow-burn pace more digestible. There’s a woozy, dream logic that lingers throughout the film that feels very David Lynch-esque and is further elevated by the hazy, ethereal cinematography by Steve Annis.
It’s in the films final act where Stanley truly unleashes the phantasmagoria Lovecraft fans have been dying to see properly translated to the big screen. The final act becomes a surreal, blood-drenched descent into psychedelic euphoria. Stanley imbues a mix of Cronenberg-style body horror, with late-80’s Carpenter nihilism and the kind of technicolor horror that harkens back to days of Argento’s “Suspiria”. The homages to such films as “The Thing” and “Society” are apparent, but blend so perfectly with the material. The gruesome practical effects are a welcoming sight, despite the horrific imagery.
It’s only when Stanley attempts to make a compelling family drama where “Color Out of Space” falters. Unlike “Hereditary”, which shares this films composer, Colin Stetson, “Color Out of Space” comes up short on character depth. We get shades of character backstories, but in the end, they don’t amount to much. The clunky exposition in the first act is also noticeably stiff.
“Color Out of Space” is a manic, psychedelic journey into the fear of the unknown. It has practically everything genre fans crave from a gonzo Nicolas Cage performance, to trippy visuals and gruesome practical effects that will disturb even the more seasoned horror vets.