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By Jake Watt
20th November 2019

H.P. Lovecraft has never fared particularly well in cinemas, to the point that even the most successful of the numerous adaptations of his work - like Stuart Gordon’s ‘Re-Animator’ and ‘Dagon’ - pay only the merest lip service to his unsettling creations. Mostly, they serve as inspiration to directors like John Carpenter; ‘The Thing’ is a glorious cosmic horror story akin to ‘At the Mountains of Madness’, and ‘In the Mouth of Madness’ is a fun riff on the idea of a Lovecraftian cult.

Translating Lovecraft to film is notoriously difficult, not only because the writer was a committed racist whose horror work is inextricably linked to his fear of anything outside his strict definitions of “white civilisation,” but because, well, it’s also hard to turn the vague enormity of mind-crushing cosmic horror into cool-looking blockbuster movie monsters.

Richard Stanley directed early 90s cult horror movies ‘Hardware’ and ‘Dust Devil’, as well as being legendarily fired from the ill-fated ‘The Island of Dr Moreau’. He went into recluse status thereafter, but has returned to take a crack at adapting Lovecraft’s 1927 short story 'The Color Out of Space'.

Stanley and his co-writer Scarlett Amaris have updated Lovecraft’s story for modern times: ‘Color Out of Space’ introduces us to Nathan Gardner (Nicolas Cage, ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’, ‘Mandy’), his ailing wife Theresa (Joely Richardson, ‘Red Sparrow’), his Wiccan daughter Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur, ‘To All the Boys I've Loved Before’), stoner teenage son Benny (Brendan Meyer, ‘The Guest’), and bespectacled youngest Jack (Julian Hilliard, ‘Greener Grass’).


The Gardner family has traded city life for the country after they inherit a rural family estate located near the iconic Lovecraftian location of Arkham, Massachusetts. Struggling artist patriarch Nathan tries his hand at gardening yet fails to yield any desired results. Theresa is a breast cancer survivor and a day-trader, who seems to be the primary breadwinner. Life has a soothing routine: dad frets over his herd of alpacas in the barn, the kids are into smoking weed and reading the Necronomicon, and a hippie squatter named Ezra (Tommy Chong, ‘Zootopia’) lives in a makeshift cabin on their land. That changes one evening when a small meteorite crashes in the yard. The purple-glowing orb soon withers into dust, but not before irradiating the local water supply.

While a young hydrologist named Ward Phillips (Elliot Knight) investigates the region’s aquifer and water table, the effect of the meteorite on the crops is bountiful and we get to see Cage taking bites from giant tomatoes like Homer Simpson chomping on Tomacco. However, the meteorite particles in the farm’s well send out solar flare-like pulses of energy that interfere with phones, internet and cars and fuse together anything - or anyone - they touch into grotesque, mutated monsters. They also produce paralysingly powerful hallucinations in the affected - Nathan complains of a terrible odour, Jack and Lavinia hear high-pitched noises, and Theresa injures herself while cooking.

The alien presence soon begins to have even worse effects on the Gardner family and, before you know it, Joely Richardson is covered in prosthetic goo with a mewling Julian Hilliard glued to her back.

The alien presence soon begins to have even worse effects on the Gardner family and, before you know it, Joely Richardson is covered in prosthetic goo with a mewling Julian Hilliard glued to her back.

Besides the presence of an initially docile but gradually more manic Nicolas Cage, the film has a similar predilection for out-there colourscaping (via Steve Annis’ cinematography) and general weirdness as Panos Cosmatos’ ‘Mandy’. Which is a good thing... mostly.

‘Color Out of Space’ also shares thematic territory with Alex Garland’s ‘Annihilation’; in that film, the Shimmer is an iridescent, colourful something-or-rather that causes immense physical and mental change to anything inside its borders. The two military expeditions investigating the Shimmer go insane due to its effects and being unable to handle the truth. Similar things occur in ‘Color Out of Space’, but Stanley reframes them to create a sometimes-disturbing picture of the breakdown of an average American family unit, as well as highlighting the infantile preoccupations humanity has with the environment.

You get the sense that Stanley was trying to find a similar tone to Robert Eggers’ ‘The Witch’, slowly building a sense of inescapable doom through every appearance of a weird plant or brightly coloured bug. But, unlike ‘The Witch’, watching this isolated family relentlessly assailed by supernatural powers becomes more gruelling than anything else, particularly during the flabby middle section of the film.

The pacing issues aren’t helped by a script that awkwardly shifts from comedy to drama to horror following each hot pink energy wave. These clunky tonal shifts are visible in Cage’s performance and... vocal choices, as he cycles through goofy, regular and manic, seemingly at random rather than in accordance to character development. Sure, he’s unhinged when he’s blasting away with a shotgun at a hydra-headed alpaca in the barn, a la ‘The Thing’, but he was already weirdly obsessed by them before the meteorite even landed. An entire scene at the start of the film is devoted to him milking one of them.

Combining the unholy trio of Nicolas Cage, H.P. Lovecraft and Richard Stanley seems like insane brilliance on paper, which is why it’s so disappointing that ‘Color Out of Space’, despite some interesting themes and it’s reverence towards alpacas, is a bit of a slog.

RELEASE DATE: 06/02/2020
RUN TIME: 1h 51m
CAST: Nicolas Cage
Joely Richardson
Q'orianka Kilcher
Tommy Chong
Brendan Meyer
Madeleine Arthur
Julian Hilliard
Elliot Knight
Melissa Nearman
DIRECTOR: Richard Stanley
WRITER: H. P. Lovecraft
PRODUCERS: Josh C. Waller
David Gregory
Daniel Noah
Elijah Wood
Lisa Whalen
SCORE: Steve Annis
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