Josh McCormack: Director Richard Stanley (Hardware; Dust Devil) has finally returned to direct his first feature film in over two decades with the H.P. Lovecraft adaption Color Out of Space.
Starring Nicolas Cage, the film focuses on a family after a mysterious meteorite strikes their front yard and slowly begins contaminating anything and anyone that gets in contact with it. In typical B-movie fashion, things do not go well, and mutated monsters abound.
Ali McGhee: I just want to add here that I think it’s important that the dad has brought his family to a house in the woods to escape the city and, presumably, give his wife (who it’s hinted at has cancer) a chance to heal — and it was not a decision that all of the family members are happy about. Cancer is a pretty apt leitmotif as the color starts to spread and infect the world, turning everything into itself.
Josh: Ali, since you’re the resident Lovecraft fan, what was your initial reaction?
Ali: I have so many things to say about this movie. I’m used to ridiculous Lovecraft adaptations (and I frequently return to Stuart Gordon’s campy classics, like Re-Animator and Dagon), but with Stanley at the helm and with the same production team that was behind Mandy (which I love, full disclosure), I have to admit I was expecting something a little less silly. I keep waiting for someone to make a serious adaptation of Lovecraft — the silent Call of Cthulhu (2005) was a great but underviewed attempt. This latest effort was decidedly not that. “The Colour Out of Space” is also my favorite Lovecraft story, and I do think it deserves a serious treatment. Maybe one day.
I appreciate that this film pays homage to the original work and to Lovecraft — Lavinia Gardner (Madeleine Arthur) is seen reading the Necronomicon, the author’s invented grimoire, and there’s a great window in the attic that made me think of his story “Dreams in the Witch-House” (though maybe that’s just me).
Josh: I agree that this is definitely no Mandy (a film that I, too, love very much) and, after viewing Color, I found it a little frustrating that the production company, SpectreVision, based a lot of its marketing on the clout they got from Mandy to make their follow-up film seem more prestigious. However, at the end of the day, it just kind of feels like a standard B-horror movie with Nic Cage chewing — er, devouring — the scenery, and I judged it as such.
My knowledge of Lovecraft really stems from the horror movies I’ve seen from filmmakers he’s inspired rather than his actual texts. On that note, I found it interesting that you brought up Gordon because a lot of the more over-the-top elements of this film reminded me of Re-Animator (1985) and From Beyond (1986). However, for all the wackiness that those two films carry with them, there’s a cast of unique, engaging characters and near pitch-perfect pacing that’s lacking in Stanley’s film.
Ali: I’m also an aficionado of Stanley’s underrated early films — especially Dust Devil (1992), with its unforgettable scenes in the deserts of Namibia. That film and Hardware (1990) stepped into bizarre territory but kept me along for the ride, even in their imperfect moments, but I always felt a few steps removed from this movie. I felt like it got away from him.
Josh: Most of my interest in Stanley stems from him as a person rather than any of the films he’s directed. The 2014 documentary Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau, focusing on the disastrous behind-the-scenes turmoil that led to Stanley being fired from 1996’s The Island of Dr. Moreau, is one of the most fascinating docs I’ve seen in recent years and shows the eccentric director at his most delightfully strange. He seems like a man with boundless imagination and so much love for the sc-fi and horror genres that I was excited to see what he could bring to the screen after so long and with practically no creative leash. And yet, Color Out of Space feels pretty generic — as if it could’ve been directed by anybody.
Ali: In spite of that, I did enjoy the performances. Cage as schlubby, affectionate patriarch Nathan Gardner is compelling enough, and he’s able to rage out and do his thing (even if it’s in a weird, Alec-Baldwin-doing-Trump-on-“SNL” voice). I also quite like Arthur as willful, witchcraft-practicing teenage daughter Lavinia. She has substance and reminded me of myself at that age, and I felt the tragedy of what was happening to her and her family.
Additionally, I love Elliot Knight as the handsome, intellectual surveyor Ward Phillips, who comes to down to study the effects of a dam that’s going to be built and swallow the town, and who also sweeps Lavinia off her feet — and apparently the whole town, who somehow see him as the expert on everything, including, nonsensically, the meteor and other stuff he knows nothing about. And the mother (Joely Richardson) and son (Julian Hilliard) relationship was especially … er … fraught, so props to them for that. *clears throat*
Oh, and can I just express admiration for Tommy Chong as hippie-psychonaut survivalist Ezra? I could have watched him all day.
Josh: Look, I love Tommy Chong as much as the next guy, but I felt that his presence came out of nowhere, didn’t lead the story into any particularly interesting areas and really pulled me out of the film.
As for Cage, I felt that he was definitely leaning more into the “meme” version of himself — as you said, I don’t know where the hell the “Baldwin as Trump” voice came from — but I still found him compelling. As someone who was raised by a stay-at-home dad, I actually appreciated seeing a film of this type portray the father as someone who watches over the house while the mother has a serious job.
Speaking of the mother, I don’t think we should gloss over Richardson. I think she brings her A-game and practically outacts everyone around her.
Ali: What I love about the story (and about Lovecraft generally) is perhaps what’s impossible for film to represent — the ineffable, alien horror of the cosmos, which literally cannot be understood by the human mind. That’s why almost all adaptations fail, honestly. The thing about this “color out of space” is that it’s unlike anything anyone has ever seen before — no one can put it into words. The color itself is a strange and malevolent force that’s disturbing because it’s impossible to comprehend, even before it infects the world. Here, it’s just ’80s-esque hot pink and purple swirled together. And while I like my neons, I didn’t feel anything sinister about the color itself, even when fruits, vegetables, animals and, finally, the town’s water all started to take it on.
Josh: I will say that though the film never fully commits to the unexplainable horror, as you mentioned, I think it very briefly taps into the cosmic horror that I’ve always wanted to see in a Lovecraft adaptation. Without spoiling too much, we get a quick glimpse at an alien planet in the film’s final act, and I found it pretty stunning.
Ali: I do think the movie excelled at body horror. It definitely takes cues from David Cronenberg’s films and John Carpenter’s The Thing (a very Lovecraftian film, in my opinion). What did you think?
Josh: Oh, most definitely. There’s one creature that appears around the film’s second act that seems like a direct callback to one of the most iconic sequences of The Thing. One particular body horror sequence featuring Richardson’s character and her youngest son, which you alluded to earlier, is genuinely quite disturbing and is probably the film’s crowning, gross-out achievement.
Ali: Ultimately, this was an entertaining, silly romp that was a lot of fun to watch. It missed the mark, though, in making me care about how people can be crushed by truly alien forces, or how we’re all alone in a hideous and endless void of a universe — or any number of other Lovecraftian takeaways.
I pretty much found myself alternating between laughing and gagging throughout, and that wasn’t necessarily disappointing. Would I watch it again? Probably not. I give it 2 stars.
Josh: The same goes for me. I was never really bored watching this, but I definitely felt its length, and it didn’t quite meet the standard I had anticipated with all this talent involved.
Color Out of Space reminds me of a mediocre second film they’d show at a late night horror double feature. There’s enough gore and bizarre moments to entertain a midnight movie crowd, but I highly doubt it will really linger with audiences. I’ll give it 2.5 stars.
Starts Jan. 24 at the Fine Arts Theatre