Color Out of Space – Film Review
by David Turpin
Directed by Richard Stanley
Starring Nicolas Cage, Joely Richardson, Tommy Chong
After a striking pair of early features – Hardware (1990) and Dust Devil (1992) – the iconoclastic South African director Richard Stanley infamously flamed out with his abortive attempt to film H. G. Wells’ The Island of Doctor Moreau. Although that project eventually reached the screen – well, sort of – under John Frankenheimer in 1996, and Stanley’s experiences with it were memorably chronicled in David Gregory’s 2014 documentary Lost Soul, it has taken until now for Stanley to return to feature directing.
Adapted from one of H. P. Lovecraft’s best short stories, Color Out of Space is – initially at least – a surprisingly straightforward story of a bourgeois family whose retreat into country living is upset by the descent of a foul-smelling meteorite that releases a mysterious, indescribable ‘colour’ (this correspondent would call it ‘hot pink’). Madness and mutation follow, and patient genre fans will be rewarded with an avalanche of gooey imagery reminiscent of Stuart Gordon’s fondly remembered 80’s Lovecraft adaptations Re-animator (1985) and From Beyond (1986).
More than anything Color Out of Space plays like the work of a singular artist making a very game stab at interacting with the mainstream. Hence, Lovecraft’s doomy prose is reconfigured into a fairly lean and recognisable ‘family in peril’ scenario (albeit with ill-starred alpacas, and Tommy Chong living in a shed). Stanley is still an authentic crackpot visionary, though, and his singularity wins out – particularly in those moments when the film gives itself over wholeheartedly to the kind of psychedelic freak-show imagery that one might expect to find on an Athena poster in hell.
The most notable concession to prevailing tastes is, of course, the stunt casting of Nicolas Cage as patriarch Nathan, driven increasingly insane by the seepage of the colour into his mind and body. Cage does his usual. It’s critic-proof, and for those who enjoy it there is lots to enjoy. As with Jack Nicholson in The Shining, for instance, it’s quite hard to tell the ‘before’ and ‘after’ characterisations apart – although Cage does shade his ‘monster’ persona with a number of vocal inflections and hand gestures clearly intended to echo the current US president. Saying it all seems a little broad is probably beside the point.
Among those giving actual performances as distinct from ‘turns’, Joely Richardson is surprisingly affecting as the family’s matriarch and breadwinner, whose recovery from breast cancer has mandated their move to the countryside. Madeleine Arthur and Brendan Meyer make strong impressions as their beleaguered teenage children who – in a witty touch – seem prepared to accept much of the blame for the cosmic terror, if doing so holds their fraying family together. Elliot Knight makes an appealing addition as a sympathetic visiting researcher, and the charismatic Q’orianka Kilcher has little to do in a cameo as the town mayor.
If Color Out of Space is ultimately more conventional than one might like, it remains commendably weird by the increasingly homogenised standards of independent horror and science-fiction cinema. It’s good to have Stanley back. Full vindication is surely not far away.