Isn’t it terrible that it’s become almost the norm to go, whenever you read about a movie and see that Nicholas Cage is either starring or involved in it in some capacity, “No, next, not doing this?” Yes, I know and we all know Cage has been for a long time, well before his Oscar win, marring his career with movies that are sometimes so bad you just don’t know what to make of them. [True story: I recently attended a Nicholas Cage party in which we saw, back to back, some of his worst ever films: The Wicker Man, Ghost Rider, and Season of the Witch. It was epic. We hooted, we howled, and we yelled at the TV, hoping that Cage, by some miracle, would hear us writhing in pain and perhaps bring us something decent. Even half-baked good. It didn’t work, and by the end, we simply threw our hands in the air and all agreed to that Cage should simply stick to doing Cage and the hell with quality.
Then came December and the promo for Color Out of Space. It seemed intriguing, but my hopes were much like the country’s morale: dashed and floating at the bottom among the detritus. I figured, sure, I’ll come, if IFC is showing it then it must mean something. Then again, IFC has screened some god-awful Indies, luckily for their one-week requisite run before slamming into VOD for rental eternity. So I went to see Color, with no expectations, and a fairly elastic mind.
To be fair, this is not by far a masterpiece. Richard Stanley (the man who was supposed to direct The Island of Dr. Moreau) in the 90s but who instead got sidelined into obscurity and a documentary that explains it all), has a strong hand, an excellent source material in Lovecraft, but too much in ideas (all of them quite good!) that some seem to get lost in translation. The great part is that he sticks close enough to the source material without bogging it to the ground. Anyone who’s read the story will know it is sparse, if almost entirely, devoid of dialogue, and the horror that starts to take over is at times so beautiful, but so abstract, that it would be next to impossible to render it convincingly onto the screen.
Here Stanley grounds his movie in presenting an entirely believable family that has moved into the country, presumably to go off the grid, and live naturally. Everyone gets fleshed out rather well and quickly — with Nathan (Cage) being presented as a loving albeit slightly eccentric father, Theresa (Joely Richardson, a cancer survivor trying to get her business off the floor), and their three kids of which Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur) being the most complex as a young Wicca who wishes to leave the woods and go back to civilization. Except… something lands in their front yard. A meteor. But it’s not quite a meteor. It has colors. It has life. And it’s reaching out…
Stanley proves that Lovecraftian horror is rich in texture and a minefield of visual storytelling that is begging to be explored. He deftly waits and waits enough to slowly release the germ of corruption upon the Gardners. Soon, but not too soon, everyone starts to slowly succumb to this nascent evil that has decided to focus its rage and hunger on the hapless family who by all means should move… but don’t. And we wonder, why? Because the first thing to go is their very will go leave — if not, we would have no story, and the antagonist has to secure the Gardners to the ground like lamb too scared to move, just waiting to be slaughtered for when pandemonium ensues.
In many ways, Color Out of Space goes the route of Annihilation, a movie that consciously or subconsciously borrowed from Lovecraft in presenting its otherworldly terror both terrifying and beautiful. Like the book we are presented with an entity, one that has arrived, but instead of being beneficial shows clear signs of having ulterior motives. In many ways, you could subtract the magenta-hued alien in the well and you would still have a family falling apart at the seams and wonder if perhaps the happiness, the love, that we were presented with at the start was just a show, and the darkness within, so completely in contrast with the color that invades the entire frame in a surreal glow, was just their own darker selves surfacing onto the ground. Much like the doomed family in The Witch, no one quite seems to know what to do with their talents — Lavinia, while a witch, is useless to help herself and her family, Nathan can’t get his own house to produce edible fruit, Theresa can’t get her business to start, and both sons are of little use, the youngest being the first to fall prey to this unearthly, zombified state that permeates the movie as we dive deeper into the story.
Stanley takes his movie into rather destructive territory without reducing its characters into mere devices on which to inflict torture. All the pain and horror you will see is justified, and only one moment — in which a chance to escape goes awry because of a lost pet in the family well — seems fabricated. Other than that, Cage, who is known for hamming it up as an actor, does deliver a completely believable performance, going from loving, doting father to incomprehensible monster in a matter of two hours. And no, the movie does not seem even vaguely long: I would even argue that it would be served better as a four to six part limited series to truly encapsulate the sheer level of horror that takes over.
Color Out of Space will come to streaming platforms February 25.