Richard Stanley is one of those filmmakers whose works that haven’t been made have been more notable than the films of his that were made. Most notably, he was originally going to direct the 1997 adaptation of The Island of Doctor Moreau, which ended up being a complete disaster, with Stanley fired a few days into the shoot. If you get the change I highly recommend the documentary Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Doctor Moreau. After Doctor Moreau though, Stanley mainly worked in documentaries and shorts. With Color Out of Space, Stanley makes his return to directing features, adapting one of the works of HP Lovecraft and working with Nicolas Cage. The resulting film is a brilliant slice of insanity that perfectly blends the styles of Stanley, Lovecraft and Cage.
The film follows the Gardner family, living on a rural farm raising alpacas, outside the fictional town of Arkham, Massachusetts. One night, a meteor crashes on the Gardner’s land, emitting an unearthly colour which distorts everything around it. Whilst the meteor itself is destroyed by lightning strikes, the effects of it are still seen, with the Gardner’s land growing more and more distorted as the colour takes over both the land and, eventually, the Gardner’s themselves. Now I know this will not be a film for everyone, but I really dug it. It’s a completely insane film, but it’s the kind of insane that I’m a fan of. What works well about the film is how it presents the horror. What is most known about Lovecraftian horror is that the horror itself is almost impossible to explain, but you feel a sense of cosmic terror whenever it’s around. It’s a hard element to convey on screen as just by showing the horror you have to lose some of the unknown elements that make it so effective, but here, by limiting what is seen, Richard Stanley is able to make this unknowable horror come across on screen. The film also does a good job playing around with time and locations, making every element seem off, not knowing how long the characters have spent in a certain location, it adds to the sense of isolation and horror of the film, so that even when the characters do try to leave, there is something that is stopping them.
The performances meanwhile help give some weight to the film. Nicolas Cage as Nathan Gardner is a lot of fun. Whilst there are some great Nic Cage freak out moments in the second half of the film, all of them feel earned and natural in the context of the story, and juxtapose well with the more quiet and caring performance Cage gives at the start of the film. At the start, we see the pressure Nathan feels, through worrying about whether raising the alpacas is a good call, to supporting his wife after a mastectomy, and there is this tender nature that makes it so when the colour does take him over, and the freak outs start, there’s a sense of tragedy as well as dark comedy. Joely Richardson does some good work showing her own feelings of insecurity following her surgery and her frustration over the rural location of the farm limiting her ability to work, tying into a larger theme of the difficulty of life in rural areas for those working in modern industries, whilst Madeline Arthur is a lot of fun showing someone who is struggling to adapt to her new surroundings and fearing for her mum’s health (becoming a practising Wicca to try and help matters) and as the film goes on, she tries everything to stop the colour, which feels believable given the events of the film and the cosmic horror of what she’s experiencing. Whilst they don’t get as much development, Brendan Meyer and Julian Hilliard give good performances, with Hilliard giving a good creepy performance. There are more over the top performances from Tommy Chong as a squatter on the Gardner’s land (with his more comedic performance adding some needed levity to the film) and Q’orianka Kilcher (adding in a theme over politics exploiting rural land in order to advance political agendas, in this case with the construction of a dam and the willingness to ignore the side effects of the meteor for media attention and to ensure deals don’t fall through when it’s revealed the colour is resulting in water contamination) but their performances work in the context of the film. I do think Brendan Meyer is a little bland in his part, but at the end of the film he does have some good moments.
The technical elements of the film are brilliantly done as well. In order for the film to work, the colour grading needed to be top notch, to create this unnatural feeling and, thankfully, that’s the case. The use of magenta for the colour is a great choice as magenta is not a natural colour. Every time that colour is used on screen just gives an unsettling feeling and the more naturalistic colour palette for the rest of the film serves to highlight how offputting the colour is. There are some great gore effects in here, some truly disturbing pieces of design. I won’t spoil them here, but the creature effects we do see in the film are really well executed and suitably grotesque. The music as well adds to the unsettling vibe of the film, helping to create an unearthly atmosphere throughout the film. The production design as well is great, creating a clear geography of the Gardner’s house, ensuring that the audience can follow along when the insanity of the third act comes around.
Overall, Color Out Of Space is a complete trip of a film. I’m not sure if other people will like it as much as I did, but I felt this captured the spirit of Lovecraftian horror well, with Richard Stanley helping to create a unique atmosphere that gives the whole film an unsettling vibe, whilst Nicolas Cage gives one of his best recent performances, helping to anchor the film and giving the film a lot of its entertainment value. I’m hoping that this means we will see more films from Richard Stanley in the future.
My Rating: 4.5/5