Color Out Of Space (2019)
Directed by: Richard Stanley
Written by: H.P. Lovecraft, Richard Stanley, Scarlett Amaris
Starring: Brendan Meyer, Elliot Knight, Joely Richardson, Julian Hilliard, Madeleine Arthur, Nicolas Cage, Tommy Chong
COLOR OUT OF SPACE (2019)
Directed by Richard Stanley
Struggling to make a go of their rural home since moving from the city, the Gardner family’s life begins to unravel after a glowing meteorite crash-lands on their secluded farmland.
Director of Hardware and Dust Devil, Richard Stanley is back with an adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s COLOR OUT OF SPACE, the first in what is supposed to be a trilogy of Lovecraftian films set in a shared universe.
Nicolas Cage plays Nathan Gardner, the father to three children; Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur), a spiritual teenager who rides around the woods barefoot on her horse and summons the archangels for help and guidance; Benny (Brenden Meyer), her stoner brother who likes watching NASA videos, and youngest sibling Jack (Julian Hillard) , who seems a bit out of it with no-one his age to play with. His wife, Theresa, played by Joely Richardson, appears to be the breadwinner of the household as she deals with clients remotely over the internet whilst Nathan tries his best at being a farmer, growing his crops and tending to a herd of alpaca who he hopes to fatten up and sell for meat. Whilst this may sound like a quirky but “normal” family, they aren’t really that likeable, with each coming off as quite obnoxious in their own way as they seemingly don’t listen to each other. Out of all of them, it seems that Lavinia is the caring one of the bunch as in the opening scenes we see her praying to some higher power to look after her mother who has cancer. Subsequent scenes see Nathan attempt to comfort his wife who feels upset with her body, having gone through undisclosed surgery some months previously, but it still feels as though he’s only interested in getting his end away rather than truly make his wife feel loved. No sooner have we met the family that the fuchsia-coloured meteor hits and that’s when things really star to get strained…
Having read H.P. Lovecraft’s short story from which the film takes its inspiration and name, it’s safe to say that Richard Stanley has remained somewhat faithful to the idea of an alien colour feeding off those around it but attempted to forge something of his own as well. In Lovecraft’s tale, which is set in the early 1900’s, the hydrologist, who’s unnamed in the short story but named Ward (Elliot Knight) in the film, appears on the scene years after the strange days which created the blasted heath; the ashen landscape where the farmstead of Nahum Gardner once stood. He meets with Ammi Pierce (loosely represented by Ezra (Tommy Chong) in this film), a neighbour of Nahum’s who witnessed the events unfold all those years ago, and discovers what exactly what happened that the locals are too frightened to talk about. We discover that Nahum and his family had a working farm but, after the meteorite hit, their soil started to succumb to otherworldly properties. Nahum’s vegetables grew to an inflated size but were sour and unfit to eat, and slowly but surely all the veg and crops were growing in the unnatural hue of the meteorite. The infection slowly seeped out, even affecting the animals on a field further up the hill away from the meteorite landing. After Nahum went public with his meteorite discovery, a group of scientists from the local university came to investigate and took samples of the rock which showed it had a tendency to not cool down but shrink, until every last bit of it disappeared, often taking its container with it too. On a second sample session, before the meteorite disappeared for good, a coloured globule on the meteorite was smashed open and this is what is suspected to have leaked the entity within the meteorite; the colour.
Richard Stanley’s interpretation of COLOR OUT OF SPACE, whilst keeping many key elements, is all over the shop, to put it lightly. Scenes are disjointed and flit from one to another whilst the characters appear and disappear just as often as their mood swings. Trying to get a handle on it or simply just to settle into the story is difficult when what is on screen either lingers on nothing or jumps from one thing to the next without any real flow. Whether this has been done purposely to represent the disorientation of the family due to the ‘colour’, as day switches to night in the flick of a switch, remains to be seen but I have a feeling it’s just the way it’s been edited or planned from the beginning.
Where Lovecraft’s tale is a slowburner, depicting a family battling an unknown enemy that slowly chips away at their sanity in a clever, subtle fashion, as their normal life disintegrates into ruin, this film chooses to focus on a family who are a bit unhinged to start with before the colour-infused madness ensues. The film takes around 50 minutes to actually start picking up but all it eventually becomes is a slanging match between a crazy Nicolas Cage and his frightened kids with a little bit of The Thing meets Society thrown in for good measure. Lovecraft’s description of a family slowly losing the plot is pushed to the side for a more theatrical display with Joely Richardson’s Theresa and son Jack (Julian Hillard) becoming a grotesque result of the alien colour’s power, all the while Cage’s Nathan goes on an over-the-top, verbal rampage. Put it this way, if this family lived next to you, you’d have called the social services and police a long time ago.
I can’t really say I enjoyed this film adaptation of COLOR OUT OF SPACE. It feels rushed and incoherent with a pacing and characterisation problem that fails to keep the viewer on side. A subtle, story-driven take on the idea would have been my preferred choice to contrast this effort, with Stanley’s result feeling like a bubbling cauldron of a lot of different ideas and not one solid take.
This isn’t the first time the story has been adapted (Die, Monster, Die and The Curse are two other examples but there’s more besides) and I’m sure it won’t be the last. Whilst COLOR OUT OF SPACE has a couple of things going for it, such as the minor laughs it provides thanks to Nathan’s over-the-hill, alcoholic UFO-spotter appearance when he’s interviewed about the meteorite by the local news station, any other semblance of entertainment remains to be found. However, horror fans will no doubt appreciate, as I did, the alien colour and body horror visual FX of both humans and animals, but, again, this isn’t enough to save the film as it stands with the visual treats nothing more than a tease.