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Color Out Of Space

Cult director Richard Stanley tries his hand at Lovecraft. A meteor crashes into a family‘s garden and triggers mutations reminiscent of John Carpenter‘s THE THING.

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Nearly all of H.P. Lovecraft’s body of work deals in the darkness of cosmic horror and the helplessness of humanity in the face of forces beyond our control, and as such it seems almost fitting that there would be a “Lovecraft curse” afflicting film adaptations of his stories. Over the decades, attempts have ranged from the forgettable to the decent, with the best among them favoring psychedelic witchiness (THE DUNWICH HORROR) or over-the-top B-movie excess (RE-ANIMATOR) over true existential horror. Others have created their own meta-horror narratives out of Lovecraft’s themes (John Carpenter’s IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS) while only referencing his stories tangentially.

COLOR OUT OF SPACE, Richard Stanley’s film of Lovecraft’s 1927 story “The Colour Out of Space”, is the latest of four previous adaptation attempts of this particular story. Stanley is perhaps best known for developing and helming (until his abortive firing a week into production) the notorious adaptation of H.G. Wells’ THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU, which starred Marlon Brando alongside a cast of rubbery, fur-covered humanoids.

The film stars Nicolas Cage, who despite playing hundreds of roles has remained strangely underused in horror films. His recent turn in psych-horror bad-trip MANDY (also produced by SpectreVision, producers of COLOR OUT OF SPACE) was broadly praised, though much of that film’s notoriety had more to do with its visuals than its plot or performances. Cage is more restrained here as Nathan Gardner, a straight-laced family man who’s moved his brood from the city to his father’s former farm in the country. The story is transposed from the 1920s to present day, which robs it of some of the Gothic potential of gaslit lanterns and horse carriages, but its woodsy setting remains intact. The family’s isolation provides a backdrop for the mountingly horrific events to play out, particularly once cellphone and internet service become useless. Add in a perfectly cast Tommy Chong as a paranoid, off-the-grid squatter, and you’ve got a setting ripe for rural horror.

The film’s first third perfectly encapsulates the issues with adapting Lovecraft’s lean short stories into full-length films, alternating between overlong domestic scenes and a variety of expositional set-pieces that broadly check off the basic facts: Nathan’s wife Theresa (Joely Richardson) has had cancer and a recent masectomy, the family is struggling with the transition from city life, and, as shown in an almost comical number of lingering shots, the Gardners get their water from a well on their property.

These sluggish domestic interludes are thankfully interrupted by a literal meteor falling from the sky, bringing the titular Color along with it. As in so many of Lovecraft’s tales, the original story describes threats in open-ended terms meant to evoke dread rather than any specific image or association. The “cosmic and unrecognisable chromaticism” of the original becomes, in the film, an oversaturated magenta hue that presages goo and gore, trading psychological terror for outright body horror.

It’s unfortunate that the filmmakers take the chaos this alien visitor wreaks as an excuse to play fast and loose with the character of Nathan. Cage is a pro at playing unhinged characters, but the shifts in Nathan’s personality (and the corresponding shifts in the film’s overall tone) feel jarring and unearned. Horror and sci-fi are best when they create worlds that, impossible or unbelievable as they may be, nonetheless provide and follow their own logic. That said, those looking for a fun and occasionally egregious horror experience will find plenty to love in COLOR OUT OF SPACE. For those anticipating a film that truly captures the vast, nuanced horror that Lovecraft evoked so well, however, the wait continues.

John Peck

Credits

Original title: Color Out Of Space
USA 2019, 111 min
Language: English
Genre: Horror, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Literary Film Adaptations
Director: Richard Stanley
Author: Scarlett Amaris, Richard Stanley
DOP: Steve Annis
Montage: Brett W. Bachman
Music: Colin Stetson
Distributor: Drop-Out Cinema
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Q’Orianka Kilcher, Joely Richardson, Tommy Chong
FSK: 16
Release: 05.03.2020

Website

Screenings

Screenings

  • OV Original version
  • OmU Original with German subtitles
  • OmeU Original with English subtitles
English/with English subtitles
All languages

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