H.P. Lovecraft has been a staple in my life for as long as I can remember. Growing up outside of Boston, not far from Lovecraft’s hometown of Providence, RI, allowed me easy access to learn more about him and his collection of weird fiction (I even took a college course on him – yay art school!). Though I don’t subscribe to his views towards women and minorities, I still found myself drawn to his tales of cosmic horror as they were unlike anything I had ever read. However, as much as Lovecraft’s stories are beloved, the transformation from book to screen was one that seemed to be a consistent struggle, with only a few adaptations shining through. However, that seems to have all changed with the release of Richard Stanley’s technicolor nightmare, COLOR OUT OF SPACE.
COLOR OUT OF SPACE is a sci-fi/horror film that centers around the Gardner family. Living a life of seclusion on their family estate, away from the bustling city of Arkham, MA, the Gardner’s experience a cosmic shakeup after a meteorite lands in their front yard. After the initial shock wears off, the family begins to notice weird changes that not only affect their minds but also their bodies in a nightmarish display of beauty and horror, as an unidentified extraterrestrial organism burrows deep within. The film, which is produced by SpectreVision (the folks responsible for the insanity that is Mandy), stars Nicolas Cage (Mandy), Joely Richardson (Nip/Tuck), Tommy Chong (Up in Smoke), Madeleine Arthur (To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before), Brendan Meyer (The Guest), Julian Hilliard (The Haunting of Hill House), Elliot Knight (American Gothic), with Q’orianka Kilcher (Dora and the Lost City of Gold).
First and foremost, I want to talk about the cast. What really made this movie shine for me was the fact that director Richard Stanley used women and POC to tell this story. At first glance, the focus of the film seems to be centered around Nicolas Cage, which makes sense considering the star power he has cultivated during his 40+ year career, but the movie really highlights the arc that comes from Lavinia Gardner, played by Madeleine Arthur. (Side note: The character of Lavinia was never in Lovecraft’s Colour Out of Space but was in his story The Dunwich Horror). For me, Madeleine carried the film and evoked both power and vulnerability at the unfolding horrors that were affecting her and her family. Joely Richardson, who plays the matriarch Theresa Gardner, goes through one hell of a transformation upon coming into contact with the mysterious meteorite. Not only is she dealing with the emotional effects of having a double mastectomy as well as running her own business, but her eventual storyline is one of the most harrowing aspects of the film. We are also introduced early on to Ward Phillips, played by Elliot Knight, a hydrologist who has been sent by Mayor Tooma (Q’orianka Kilcher) to test the water in Arkham and the surrounding towns before the opening of a new reservoir. I don’t want to reveal too much but I can assure you that Ward is the hero we all need. To see these characters played by a combination of women and POC was something that I felt elevated the film’s standards while denouncing Lovecraft’s narrow-minded views.
All that said, that doesn’t mean the rest of the cast didn’t rise to the occasion. Nicolas Cage‘s performance is just as unhinged as we have all come to expect from him. However, it works perfectly in his portrayal as the patriarch, Nathan Gardner. When it was announced that Stanley had cast Nicolas Cage for the role, I remember instantly thinking that this was the duo we have all been waiting for. Nathan’s spiral into insanity works beautifully because Cage knows how to harness that craziness so well. Brendan Meyer, who plays the weed-smoking older brother Benny, is more of a secondary character, which isn’t a bad thing because it allows for Lavinia to truly morph, though I would have liked to have seen more from the perspective of Benny. That said, their brother-sister banter felt genuine which might have something to do with the friendship that Meyer and Arthur had prior to filming. Lastly, Julian Hilliard, who most may recognize from The Haunting of Hill House, is just as adorable as ever as the younger sibling, Jack. He handles the crash-landing of the meteorite quite differently than the rest of his family but it soon becomes apparent that he is seeing something the rest of us can’t. I don’t know how to properly explain it but there’s something incredibly unsettling about Hilliard’s interaction with this unseen entity. However, that’s nothing compared to what ends up happening to him further down the line.
Aside from the acting, another aspect of the film that will blew me away were the visuals as well as the cinematography of Steve Annies. Filmed mainly in Portugual, the scenery is breathtaking even before the meteorite hits, giving viewers a sense of serenity. Furthermore, the farmhouse gives off an archaic yet cozy place of solitude, which lends itself wonderfully to giving the viewers a false sense of comfort. Once the meteorite hits, the space surrounding the house is transformed into a dazzling display of colors. The foliage becomes bright and full, the vegetables succulent, and the sky finds itself enveloped in a hazy purplish/pink tone that explodes with contrast when shown against the evening sky. Regardless of what people may think of the film, it’s hard not to be impressed by the visuals and color wheel from which Stanley and his team created from. This is cosmic horror done right, in all its horrific glory, and by the end of the film, it only made me want more.
As I mentioned, doing an adaptation of a Lovecraft story isn’t easy and though Stanley had been out of the game for the better part of 30 years, he has come back with ferocity, resulting in a film that is near perfect. We may only be in January, but COLOR OUT OF SPACE is already positioning itself as one of the best horror films of the year. Stanley, as a director and artist, was able to tap into the best side of Lovecraft while making sure to modernize a story for the present-day. People may initially be turned off at the beginning by the slow-burn nature of the film, but believe me, the pay-off is more than worth it. Once the infection spreads, Stanley brilliantly incorporates body horror against the dazzling backdrop of a hallucinogenic color scheme. You will at once experience the fear, horror, and allure that this alien lifeform emits, making it difficult to turn away from the screen even when the nightmarish creatures finally appear. Stanley has proven he is a master at what he’s passionate about which makes it even more exciting that he’ll be helming a Lovecraft trilogy, with the next film based on The Dunwich Horror, which he mentioned recently to me will have a #MeToo storyline attached to it. In all, COLOR OUT OF SPACE is an experience of epic proportions and one you will not want to miss, especially on the big screen. COLOR OUT OF SPACE arrives only in theaters on January 24, 2020.