Fueled by fantastic visuals, excellent sound design and engaging performances, Color Out of Space is a super-cool, psychedelic nightmare. The otherworldly horror flick also marks the victorious return of cult director Richard Stanley to the big screen after years off the grid.
The auteur writer-director, perhaps not surprisingly to a sliver of long-time fans, delivers another creative and well-crafted work; a grotesque, visceral experience that’s sure to burn images into your brain.
An up-and-comer in the early 1990s, Stanley made his mark with the robot horrors of Hardware and mysterious murders of Dust Devil. On the heels of the two Miramax films, he was tapped to write and direct an adaptation of the H.G. Wells novel The Island of Dr. Moreau in 1996. The catastrophic events during production that culminated in the firing of Stanley was brilliantly documented in Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau (2014).
The promising career of a visionary filmmaker seemed to be over and prospects for a new movie from Stanley had all but vanished – until now. More than 20 years later, Stanley and production company SpectreVision bring to life sci-fi legend H.P. Lovecraft’s 1927 short story.
Color Out of Space follows the Gardners, a loving-but-struggling family who live in the deep woods of Massachusetts, raising alpacas on an inherited homestead. The Gardners soon become afflicted by missing pets, mental breakdowns and physical malformations after being exposed to otherworldly forces via alien meteorite crash-landing in their front yard.
Nicolas Cage stars as Nathan, an All-American doofus dad with a good heart, who attempts to reassure his cynical teenagers with a John Lennon quote in the first act. Love him or hate him, Nicolas Cage is, was, and shall forever be, Nicolas Cage. His eccentricities shine through the character of Nathan, whose quirkiness morphs into a slurry of tantrums and babblings as the well-intentioned life he built begins to unravel.
The strong and well-assembled cast also features Joely Richardson as Theresa. The family’s mother is a cancer survivor and online financial advisor; the true bread-winner of the Gardner clan while husband Nathan chases his fantasy of cultivating little llamas. Elliot Knight is Ward the hydrologist, an out-of-towner who offers a fresh perspective as he looks into the Gardner goings-on. And Tommy Chong is Ezra, the stoner-in-the-woods character that’s surprisingly played just shy of cliché.
However, it’s Madeleine Arthur as the Gardner’s ritual-performing, mystic daughter Lavinia that really carries the film. Although her mind wanders through magik texts while longing to leave the family farm, Lavinia seems to be the first to truly recognize the peril they’re in. Arthur’s portrayal is endearing, believable and ironically grounded as meteor-related happenings spread around the property.
One scene in particular suggests the Gardners aren’t the only ones dealing with past trauma. While the alien infection spreads and drama ensues, a TV flickers on and we see Marlon Brando from the distant past, suggesting that maybe Stanley is still haunted by his days on The Island.
View the official trailer of Color Out of Space from RLJE Films:
It’s not too heavy on the politics, but like many classic sci-fi/horror works, Color Out of Space contains undercurrents of social anxieties and largely unaddressed existential threats. The water supply, the changing climate and mankind’s dependence on tech to communicate are all subtly operating in the story’s background.
In the forefront is Stanley’s masterful altered-reality storytelling through mood-setting and hallucinogenic visuals. Books of magick rituals covered in blood, Colin Stetson’s wonderfully eerie score and great shot composition by cinematographer Steve Annis contribute to the bad mushroom-trip vibe that awaits the viewer.
Whether by design or not, the audience is treated to father-madness reminiscent of The Shining, Cronenberg-like body horror, creature concoctions right out of The Thing and textured landscapes that could exist in Stephen King’s The Mist while being sucked through a nearly two-hour dreamscape.
Color Out of Space satisfies a horror itch that’s sometimes tough to scratch. While not as high-brow as the Suspiria remake or The Lighthouse, it certainly has more to offer than a Stranger Things or the latest Terminator outing. It sits nicely next to Hereditary on the video store shelf in this regard. (Note: both films also share the same composer, Stetson).
Credit needs to go to the producers at SpectreVision, which includes actor Elijah Wood. They produced 2018’s Mandy, also starring Cage, and have thankfully helped with a new start to Stanley’s career.
According to a recent interview with Stanley in The Hollywood Reporter, Color Out of Space is the first installment of a proposed trilogy of Lovecraft material. Stanley is reportedly in the middle of writing Dunwich Horror, another short story from the acclaimed author, set to take place years after the events of Color Out of Space.
Let’s hope this is the case. And maybe a little ritual of our own to expedite?
Color Out of Space is screening now at Keystone Arts Cinema