Director: Richard Stanley
Writers: Richard Stanley, Scarlett Amaris, H.P. Lovecraft (based on the short story by)
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Q'orianka Kilcher, Joely Richardson
What to say about Color Out of Space? Well, the first thing to mention is that this film is the long-awaited release for the Richard Stanley followers out there, genre fans still in love with his early cult horrors Hardware and Dust Devil. Then there’s the folklore surrounding his disappearance from the film industry after being fired on set of The Island of Dr. Moreau (everyone should watch the very good documentary Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley's Island of Dr. Moreau, it’s on Amazon Prime right now, thank me later.) Then there’s the fact that anyone who has ever interviewed him has said the same thing; his answers are so unexpected. He speaks in couplets, a stream of consciousness. Listen to Elijah Wood’s podcast with him (visitations - an amazing podcast about genre movies) and you’ll hear first-hand how he tells stories, how he answers questions but never really answers them, the incredible history that he has, the wonderful rhetoric. Wacky doesn’t really cover it.
The world therefore rejoiced when Stanley announced that he was adapting a H.P. Lovecraft novel for the big screen; Color out of Space, produced by Elijah Wood’s production company Spectrevision, no less. Lovecraft has long had cult status for readers who enjoy out-of-this-world sci fi horror novels. Then came the news that added even more intrigue; Nicholas Cage would star in it. Hugely prolific though he is, Cage has recently garnered much affection for his leanings towards horror - from Mandy on wards. It seems that the unholy trinity of Lovecraft, Stanley and Cage had come together, before anyone had even thought to ask for it.
The premise is simple - the Gardner family has traded city life for the quiet country after they inherit a rural family estate located near Arkham, Massachusetts. Stanley admitted that it's because of its earthly setting that he chose this book to adapt, along with it being a particular favourite of his mother's. The film opens with the daughter Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur) performing a ritual to protect her mother from getting cancer again. She also, rather tellingly, wishes aloud that she will soon escape the place. She’s a sulky teenage girl with a lot of eyeliner and is already sick of the countryside until she meets a handsome scientist who is testing the water in the area.
Father Nathan (Cage) is a struggling artist and tries his hand at gardening and alpaca farming. Both pursuits are failing pretty badly. His wife, Theresa, the amazing Joely Richardson, is in recovery from her illness but not that you’d know it - she spends most of her time speaking to her clients on video calls about the stock exchange before the wi-fi cuts out. It becomes clear that the family are slightly frustrated to be finding themselves out in the sticks. All except the two sons; Jack and Benny, who are way more easy-going and add an innocence to the affair.
One evening a small meteorite crashes in the yard. When the family investigates, they find a purple-glowing orb which delights the town, with the Mayor declaring that she’ll bring a TV crew the following day to capture all the juicy action. However, before she can return, the orb withers into dust, but not before infecting the local water supply (hence the scientist!).
A beautiful spectrum of colours hover in a foreboding manner in the very air around the house and grounds, and soon an alien life-force begins to show it’s hand, with horrific effect.
It’s not a pure horror movie, it’s a B movie that knows what it is the audience its intended for. The script itself leans into that. It’s hilarious (Cage delivering the lines so boisterously and with relish) and one-liners had the whole room falling out of their seats. This treacle-thick dark humour mixes with the shocking gory horror, and delicious creature special effects that we all wanted to see in a Lovecraft movie. The film just looks beautiful too - the colours reminiscent of the dizzying effects seen in Annihilation. Certain frames blow the mind.
Richardson is brilliant and steals every scene she’s in. Cage's descent into madness is one we know well and enjoy. Only he can 'lose his shit' like he does (there's a YouTube compilation someone made of this very thing and it is glorious.) The cast has obviously had a lot of fun making the film and working opposite Cage. On meeting Stanley, Richardson said that the first thing he did on set was to pull two meteor rocks from his pocket and rub them together to demonstrate how they ‘bleed.’
‘Richard comes from out of space,’ she said at the BFI London Film Festival screening earlier this week. I’ve no doubt of it.