Review: Color Out of Space

Distributor: RLJE Films
Director: Richard Stanley
Writer: Richard Stanley, Scarlett Amaris, based on Colour Out of Space by H.P. Lovecraft 
Composer: Colin Stetson
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Joely Richardson, Madeleine Arthur, Q’orianka Kilcher, Tommy Chong
Genre: Science Fiction, Horror

Coming from the same studio of 2018’s best cult-horror film, Mandy, an audience member going into Color Out of Space might approach this film with certain expectations. One can expect a colorful movie with some horrific imagery and a bonkers Nicolas Cage performance worth the price of admission by itself. Big shoes to fill. Under the guiding hand of director Richard Stanley, the film manages to achieve being a different kind of movie than its spiritual successor whilst also something in its own right that makes it notable. 

Content Guide

Violence/Scary Images: Extremely graphic and unsettling gore, body horror and violence.
Language/Crude Humor: Severe language throughout including f***, J****, c***s***** and G**D***
Drug/Alcohol References: Characters drink and smoke casually, and references of drugs. 
Sexual Content: Crude discussion of sexuality.
Spiritual Content: A character is a practicing Wiccan that mutilates her body as part of a ritual.
Other Negative Content: Themes of violence and despondency. 
Positive Content: Themes of family, humanity and loss.

Review

It took a while for Richard Stanley’s Color Out of Space to start working for me as a film. The moment I knew it would though was the moment the characters started to grasp the terror of the situation they were in. They stare into the eyes of the mass of horror belonging to the people they thought they knew, and can’t help but be chocked up by the loss of the ones they loved. They’re at a loss, and they’re slowly realizing the full implications of what is happening and what they’ll have to do next. They aren’t important. Yet they’re faced with the worst realities and choices a human can be forced to grapple with. In this moment, the reality of the horror really presided over me and I felt genuinely unsettled. 

Granted, for the characters that only means acknowledging the situation exists in the first place and the journey to that moment was a long one. They still can’t possibly grasp how or why these events are happening.  Color Out of Space is an adaption if a H.P. Lovecraft story of the same name, and if there’s one thing certain about Lovecraft it’s that you don’t know what you’re in for. His horror stories were existential and cosmic horror stories about characters grappling with the horror of the unknown. Richard Stanley’s adaption borrows the loose outline of Lovecraft’s initial story and uses it as a jumping off point for an intense, colorful and deeply unsettling horror film that explores themes of body autonomy, psychological breakdown, individuality and the horror of the unknown.

Fans of John Carpenter’s The Thing, Alex Garlands Annihilation, or Panos Cosmatos’s Mandy, will be in familiar territory. Just keep in mind this is going for something smaller in scale and more subdued… slightly. 



The story by itself is somewhat ambitious and unfocused. Like the book, the plot begins when a mysterious meteorite crashes into the yard of a small, antisocial New England family. Immediately strange supernatural events progressively begin haunting the family until one of them is injured and they’re forced to briefly separate. Quickly things escalate to the point where the events start taking a physical toll on the family as stranger and stranger occurrences are unleashed.

I can’t speak to the nature of what the reveal is, if only just because knowing what it is before it’s given any amount of exploration makes the reveal feel silly, but by the end you won’t believe where the story goes. The movie benefits from several scenes that extensively go out of their way to ground the characters and events in a real feeling world. The movie spends a great deal of time building up the family’s individuality and explaining their personalities and quirks. Though the dialog is raw and hard on the ears, you at least get a sense for who these people are. They’re clearly comfortable living off the beaten path but they have some level of family structure and love. 

Sadly the focus on character building doesn’t entirely help the movie. These scenes are notably grounded and quiet which does serve a purpose in the narrative. It’s there just to aid the contrast for what happens later in the film. This is done to a fault for the first hour, as the limited drama and awkward dialog make the movie dull for a large portion of its duration. What results is a greatly uneven movie; there are some intense highlights and performances, and likewise just as many you won’t care for either. Nic Cage is the obvious sell for performance and he’s definitely going full CRAZY in the back half of the movie. Thankfully the movie matches his intensity as his descent becomes emblematic of the descent of the entire film. 



The parts that do work in Color Out of Space are thankfully very strong. The best scenes in the movie are just the ones of deeply human and average characters coming to grips with the reality of their situation and the fact that they’re going to have to do horrible things. At times, it’s a film that isn’t fully baked. It bears more than a passing resembling to several notable cult-hit horror films that also draw upon Lovecraft and other body-horror themed stories like the aforementioned The Thing, Annihilation and Mandy. Regardless, this is a film I’m more inclined to celebrate than criticize. 

For director Richard Stanley, this film marks something of a notable triumph. Stanley is most famous for failing to adapt his dream project, The Island of Dr. Moreau, in 1996. Delivering a film this bizarre and wonderful after so long is quite vindicating for a director whose reputation has been stained by one massive failure. Being one of the few loyal and straight adaptions of H.P. Lovecraft is a wonder in an of itself. Stanley has stated he’s planning to use the success of Color Out of Space to jumpstart an entire trilogy of Lovecraft adaptations, starting with The Dunwich Horror. Misgivings aside, I couldn’t be more excited! If you’re a hardcore horror fan, don’t let this one slip by you!  

Positives

+ Some deeply unsettling and emotional scenes + Interesting adaption of Lovecraft's original story

Negatives

- Uneven story - Mildly silly explanation for the events - Some rough performances and dialog

The Bottom Line

Fans of H.P. Lovecraft will likely find a lot to "enjoy" in this adaptation. It's humane and emotionally devastating in ways I didn't expect going into it given the studio that made it. On its own terms, it's one of the best Lovecraft adaptations ever made!

 

7.5

Tyler Hummel

Born into the unexplored residential backwater of Chicago, Tyler Hummel is a graduate of Tribeca Flashpoint College where he studied Sound Design for Film and Interactive Media. When he isn't hosting his public access talk show The Fox Valley Film Critics or collecting DragonBall Z figurines, he enjoys writing and directing short films. As with Rick from Casablanca, "he's a man like any other man, just more so!"

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