Review: Richard Stanley's 'Color Out of Space' is a Blessing From the Beyond
by Adam Frazier
February 4, 2020
South African filmmaker Richard Stanley made his feature directorial debut in 1990 with Hardware, a post-apocalyptic science fiction flick about a self-repairing cyborg that goes on a rampage. His second film, 1992's Dust Devil, is a kind of supernatural Spaghetti Western about a shape-shifting, hitchhiking serial killer. These low-budget genre movies, while commercial failures, showed potential and made it possible for Stanley to work on his dream project – an adaptation of H.G. Wells' The Island of Doctor Moreau for New Line Cinema (in 1996). What was meant to be the filmmaker's big break became his undoing. After years of developing the script, Stanley was fired a few days after principal photography began and replaced by John Frankenheimer. The filmmaker retreated, quite literally, into the wilderness and left Hollywood behind.
Ironically, the Doctor Moreau ordeal and Stanley's subsequent exile would be the catalyst for bringing him back into the spotlight. After seeing a 2014 documentary on the subject, Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley's Island of Dr. Moreau, members of SpectreVision – the production company behind The Greasy Strangler and Mandy – learned that Stanley had co-written (with Scarlett Amaris) a Lovecraft adaptation and jumped at the chance to produce the maligned filmmaker's latest feature since 1996. Enter Color Out of Space, a cosmic horror feature based on H. P. Lovecraft's 1927 short story "The Colour Out of Space" about an extraterrestrial entity that infects the minds and bodies of those it comes in contact with.
The story follows Nathan Gardner (Nicolas Cage seen in Mandy, Arsenal, Running with the Devil most recently), along with his wife Theresa (Joely Richardson), and their three children, (Madeleine Arthur, Brenden Meyer, and Julian Hilliard), who live on an alpaca farm located in the hills west of Arkham, Massachusetts. Their quiet, pastoral life is disrupted when a meteorite crashes into their front yard and melts into the ground, infecting the land. Mutant forms of fluorescent, technicolor flora begin to grow, while the wildlife suffers from bizarre deformities. Soon, the Gardners realize that they too are susceptible to the extraterrestrial force and must escape its influence before they descend into madness.
Stephen King once called Lovecraft "the twentieth century's greatest practitioner of the classic horror tale." The New England writer was responsible for King's own fascination with the macabre and inspired the work of John Carpenter, H.R. Giger, Mike Mignola, Guillermo del Toro, Nnedi Okorafor, Neil Gaiman, and so many others. There have been countless film adaptations of his work, most notably those of Stuart Gordon, who brought us Re-Animator, From Beyond, Castle Freak, and Dagon. When it comes to "The Colour Out of Space," the short story has been adapted numerous times: Die, Monster, Die! (1965), The Curse (1987), Colour from the Dark (2008), 2010's Die Farbe (The Color), etc. And while it isn't a directly related, 2018's Annihilation – based on the novel by Jeff VanderMeer – shares many similarities with Lovecraft's story.
What's so interesting about Richard Stanley's big screen version of Color Out of Space, however, is that it's incredibly faithful to the source material and yet manages to be more than just another adaption. It's an over-the-top, candy-coated descent into cosmic insanity that feels like a spiritual sequel to Gordon's From Beyond. It's funny, deeply disturbing, and unabashedly weird. I mean, we're talking about Nic Cage playing Jack Torrance, if Jack Torrance maintained an alpaca farm instead of the Overlook Hotel, driven mad not by ghosts but by a reality-splintering psychedelic alien lifeform. Cage flips between restrained and unhinged like a possessed light switch, completely selling us on the idea that he is under not only Stanley's influence but the hold of some unknown terror from the beyond. Behind Panos Cosmatos's Mandy, this is probably the best live-action performance Cage has turned in since 2010's Kick-Ass.
The visuals conjured by cinematographer Steve Annis and also special effects supervisor Filipe Pereira, combined with the otherworldly soundscape created by composer Colin Stetson (also of Hereditary, Blue Caprice, Lavender), make for a memorable and undeniably cinematic viewing experience. In addition to Cage, performances are strong all-around, especially with the Gardner kids. Arthur (from To All the Boys I've Loved Before), Meyer (from The Guest and "The OA"), and Hilliard (from Haunting of Hill House and Greener Grass) are a great trio and their performances really anchor the film emotionally and make you care about the family. At the same time, Tommy Chong steals a handful of scenes as Ezra, a stoned, shack-dwelling hermit who knows there's something funky going down on the farm.
Color Out of Space – like Stanley's entire body of work – isn't for everyone, and that's what makes it great. It has a distinct voice, a unique personality, and it simply doesn't fit in with the mainstream. It's this alien force, beyond the human spectrum, attempting to communicate with us and, in the process, altering our way of thinking. Stanley's film succeeds this time because not only is it a strong cinematic adaption that captures the essence of Lovecraft's work, its existence is something of a cosmic horror itself. Nearly 25 years after being railroaded out of Hollywood, the stars have aligned and Stanley has returned, falling through the atmosphere and smashing into the scene like a meteorite out of space. What a time to be alive.
Adam's Rating: 4 out of 5
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