Color Out of Space (2019)

January 27, 2020

 

A Top 1 sexual fantasy of mine: I'm just a lonely hydrologist traversing the countryside, studying the water table for the implementation of a major water infrastructure project, and I come across a beautiful, young witch and her majestic white stallion performing a Wicca ritual on the riverbed...

 

Coincidentally enough, that's also how Richard Stanley's new film, Color Out of Space, begins. A startling faithful adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft's short story, "The Colour Out of Space," the movie is, hands down, the best representation of the author's work on film. Sure, while other great films such as Re-Animator and From Beyond get billed as Lovecraft-inspired works, they are just that--inspired by the stories they're based on rather than direct adaptations.

 

And there's a reason for that. Lovecraft's works are notorious for their "indescribable" horrors. The monsters and creatures are usually of such a cosmic, unknowable nature that the characters don't even bother describing them in any detail. For example, there's a pretty horrific scene in the new film that also appears in the short story involving a creature in an attic. While Stanley indulges us with a badass monstrosity that is the stuff of nightmares, Lovecraft simply states: "There are things which cannot be mentioned, and what is done in common humanity is sometimes cruelly judged by the law."

But what stood out to me most about Color Out of Space is how it captures that dark sense of nature--the mystic environment of which all Lovecraft stories inhabit. The natural world becomes a gloomy, ominous canvas inviting to malevolent forces beyond the comprehension of man. So in this regard, the film immediately takes a step in the right direction by using Lovecraft's own words for the opening narration:

 

West of Arkham the hills rise wild, and there are valleys with deep woods that no axe has ever cut. There are dark narrow glens where the trees slope fantastically, and where thin brooklets trickle without ever having the caught the glint of sunlight.

 

With the visual backdrop of ancient, spooky forests, we are cast directly into a world of dread, the world of old where ghost stories are real. The narrator, Ward Phillips (Elliott Knight), is the aforementioned hydrologist sent to study the water in preparation for a new water reservoir and dam that will carve out the luscious New England land. Just as in the story, it's through his viewpoint we uncover the horror and dreadful fate of the Gardner family. 

The witch at the riverbed, Lavinia, is the first Gardner we meet, played by a striking and game-as-all-fuck-for-the-material, Madeleine Arthur. It's quite obvious that her foray into witchcraft and heavy metal is a means of teenage rebellion against her parents, who moved the family from Boston to a family plot in the Bumfuck Hills of Nowhere.

 

Her lame-ass father, Nathan (Nicholas Cage), for baffling reasons, has decided to quit the city life and raise alpacas, for which he describes as "the animal of the future." The mother (Joely Richardson) tries to maintain her job as a stockbroker from the house, constantly battling the crappy wi-fi and cell signal (and giving a whole new meaning to the phrase "working remotely"). Rounding out the Gardner clan, you have the eldest son, Benny (Brendan Meyer), a stoner obsessed with NASA space videos, and little brother Jack (Julian Hillard), who is the obligatory creepy kid.

 

All together, and despite each individual's level of angst, they are a close-knit, happy family. That is, until one night a strange meteor crashes in their front yard--turning their quaint rural life into a literal Lovecraftian nightmare.

Things go from zero to batshit in no time, and Stanley utilizes the cosmic horrors of the story to create a stunning visual feast, leveraging aggressive, colorful lighting against very passable CGI, that in the end, serve to adequately depict the "indescribable." We are as immersed into this nightmare as the characters, and we share the same claustrophobic dread they feel as they succumb to the inescapable prison of their home and sanity. 

 

However, nothing I've said so far would lead you to believe just how fun this movie is. This is, quite simply, a pulpy B-movie with an art house sensibility. It embraces the humor and absurdity inherent to the material while elevating the horror to an unbearable level. It's funny, gory, weird as hell, and anchored by a wild Cage performance. I.e., Color Out of Space will most definitely have a long shelf life as a midnight cult staple.

Here's to hoping that just like Charles Bronson became synonymous with Cannon Films in the 80's, there will be so many future pairings between Nicolas Cage and Elijah Wood's production company, SpectreVision (who also did Mandy), that their cult legacy will, too, be inseparable. 

 

And here's to also hoping that maybe someday I come across that smoking hot witch on the riverbed...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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