COLOR OUT OF SPACE (Directed by Richard Stanley, 111 minutes, USA, 2020)
BY DAN TABOR FILM CRITIC Richard Stanley’s hotly-anticipated adaptation of H. P. Lovecraft’s Color Out Of Space is the director’s first feature film since he was fired mid-production from The Island of Dr. Moreau back in 1996. The daring documentary Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau tells the insane story of the director getting fired from the film early into production, and chronicling him hiding in the nearby rain forest only to infiltrate the set as a costumed extra.
Color Out Of Space is the weird-beard Lovecraft-ian tale of every dad Nathan Gardner (Nicolas Cage) who relocates his family from their New York City perch to his deceased father’s rural New England farm when his wife is diagnosed with cancer. One night a strange glowing meteor crashes into his front lawn and something begins to seep into the soil that contaminates the water supply and mutates the wildlife. If you’re familiar with the work of Lovecraft you know what to expect here as the entire family is either driven mad or horribly disfigured by the magenta-hued force unleashed by the fallen object’s radiation. Color Out Of Space is a long-awaited return to form for Stanley, who lends equal weight to his explorations of cerebral otherworldly influences as he does the story of a family coping with the impending death of their matriarch.
There are, of course, the expected Nic Cage freak outs and over-the-top character flourishes coupled with Stanley’s trademark ethereal atmospherics and quirky narrative detours. My favorite of these is the subplot with Nathan and his pack of Alpacas, “the animal of the future,” that inspires an intense monologue about the art of milking it. That aside, it’s how Stanley is careful not to let Cage go too far early on that gives his ultimate freak-out the gravitas it so rightfully deserves. I should probably warn you, if you’re checking Color out simply for Cage being unhinged, that isn’t quite the case here as Cage seems to be putting forth a genuine effort to act in the first half of the film. The rest of the cast holds their own against Cage, but Madeleine Arthur steals the show as Nathan’s “witchy” daughter Lavinia Gardner, adding some real dimension to ye olde goth daughter film trope.
Color Out Of Space is a slow, controlled descent into madness that enraptures the viewer with its nihilistic glow. Stanley works well within the confines of his restrictive budget to tell an ambitious story that seems to channel the rage and desolation of his banishment from Hollywood. The film will please fans of Stanley’s more cerebral approach to genre, while still packing in the tropes and Nic Cage freak outs that your run of the mill horror fans will flock to in the wake of the mainstream success of Mandy. I really dug Color, here’s hoping this is the beginning of a long and fruitful second act for Stanley.