Richard Stanley is no strange figure for mind-bending B-movies inspired by classic sci-fi literature. His last tenure, the beleaguered The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996)—in which troubled productions got him fired by New Line Cinema—is an adaptation of H.G. Wells’ early classic sci-fi horror of the same title. It took him at least 20 years for him to bounce back from that disastrous experience before he began conceiving another classic sci-fi horror, The Color Out of Space by H.P. Lovecraft. With panache reminiscing his early works in Hardware and Dust Devil as well as Nicolas Cage’s newly-found B-movie charisma, Color Out of Space gives Stanley the well-deserved come-back.
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The story, set in modern era—in contrast to Lovecraft’s late 1800s setting—revolves around The Gardners, a big-city family that has just moved to a rural town in Massachusetts. Nathan (Cage), the patriarch, keeps himself busy with his new farm—raising alpacas and growing crops; meanwhile, Theresa (Joely Richardson), the matriarch works remotely from the attic after undergoing mastectomy. They bring along their sons, Benny (Brendan Meyer) and Jack (Julian Hilliard), as well as their daughter, Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before), who gets obsessed with witchcraft. One day, a bizarre meteorite crash-lands in their yard—unraveling the titular color out of space which leads to a series of peculiar events forcing the family to the brink of their sanity.
The horror of an unknown cause becomes the epicenter of Color Out of Space. Stanley, co-writing the screenplay with Scarlett Amaris, observes the events mainly from the Nathan’s point of view while occasionally switching to the perspective of Lavinia, his daughter, and an outsider, Ward Phillips (Elliot Knight), a hydrologist in-charge for surveying the area. Aside from the meteorite, there’s barely any sight of the malicious force that plagues The Gardners and their surroundings. While Lovecraft intensely exclaims that the titular color is beyond visual description humanity can perceive, Stanley finds the liberty to visualize it with strange, psychedelic-inspired colors to convey his message. For him, this villain—which is the color itself—is corrupting everything in the surrounding with fuzzing and nauseating thoughts, which Stanley attempts to represent with the choice of colors he uses.
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In its narrative core, Color Out of Space is in the similar spectrum with Alex Garland’s Annihilation or distantly with Tarkovsky’s Stalker. In the midst of the story, there’s a corrupted zone surrounded by bizarre spectrum of colors and substances that mutate everything within its scope. Stanley is confident in what he’s capable of doing and it’s nothing sort of philosophical nor meditative. He revels in the causing of dreadful and wacky moments beyond our mind can grasp. From the oozing body horror elements to Cage’s getting berserk and make a slam dunk out of rotten tomatoes (nice pun, anyway), there’s barely any narrative exposition to carry around even until it wraps. And, yet, Stanley makes us believe that something is not right and it really is.
Color Out of Space stores most of its weird, Lovecraftian horror in the third act. Before we get there, the slow-burn horror treads relaxingly with morning-after sensations that only get worse before it gets trippier in the end. The stake is never huge and not that it’s intended to be but Stanley delivers the breed of horror that almost missed its return flight right onto its track again.