Updated: Jul 4, 2020
Big, bold, gorgeous, and very weird, Richard Stanley has returned to filmmaking with an outstanding new movie, The Color Out of Space. Based on an old H.P. Lovecraft story, Space is about a family unit living out in the woods up in the northeast whose fairly ordinary lives get interrupted by the arrival of a strange meteor that crashes near their house and next to a well on their property. What happens next is a gradual, terrifying unfolding of spreading cosmic horror, as the family is subsumed by whatever has infected the earth and, most importantly, the water.
Right from the opening shots, you know you’re not going to get an ordinary horror film. Lingering on ancient trees and slow-crawling fog, Stanley begins his tale with a teenaged girl (Lavinia Gardner, played by Madeleine Arthur) performing a witchy ceremony in the woods. She does this for two reasons: one to heal her mother who is suffering from cancer; and two, to allow her own escape from a beautiful land where she feels trapped by familial obligations. The story expands and we meet the Gardner family itself. Lavinia has a slightly older, stoner brother, younger brother, mother and father (Nathan, played by Nicolas Cage). All seems fairly normal; the kids bicker, the parents are doing their level-best to keep things together, all while combatting middle-age and the cancer, which looms in the background of every family interaction. The meteor hits, and things start getting strange. Electronic equipment goes on the fritz, the phones and internet not working properly. The animals act antsy. Time seems to bend, with characters losing unaccountable hours. And all along, that meteor infects the ground and the drinking water with some sort of alien…presence. Finally, all horror is unleashed, and madness sets in. But is it truly madness, or a new kind of evolution sparked by this alien presence? The family falls apart, bickering and fighting, only to be united in the end, as the strange effects of the meteor bring the unit back together. Sort of.
This is a terrific film. Stanley allows the plot to unfold at its own pace. We get plenty of time learning about the Gardner family. Father and mother work hard to make a normal life for their kids and those kids are bored and listless as any teens and pre-teens can be. The meteor injects some excitement into their lives but not the kind they thought they were looking for. Nicolas Cage gives a fantastic performance essaying the breakdown of the patriarch. Yes, there are a few of those wild, “Nic Cage” moments, but to be honest, he’s at his best when he’s playing it close to the vest, almost underplaying. He shows a lot of tenderness and heart and when his character finally starts to go mad, you really feel for him. They are trapped in a situation that has no precedent and seemingly no escape. He wavers back and forth between looking out for his family and slipping into his (despised) dead father’s personality. Cage is great in the role, giving it the kind of simultaneous gravitas and wackiness it needs. The rest of the cast is equally superb, with Madeleine Arthur really carrying quite a bit of the load. She’s both vulnerable and strong, scared and defiant. She’s excellent.
As the movie plot unravels, so does reality. Stanley keeps things pretty normal at first, int
roducing the Weird early on and letting it grow and grow, just like those eccentric flowers that start appearing after the meteor crash. The sense of tension ratchets slowly, eventually reaching unbearable, grotesque heights. When things get strange, they get Strange. The color palettes alone are striking and gorgeous while also simultaneously hideous. There’s a lot of melding of magentas and pinks and greens. It is impossible to replicate Lovecraft’s “colour that has never been seen before,” but Stanley does a good job of approximating such an experience. We’ve never quite seen colors like these doing things like that. This combines with the growing tension until finally it all explodes in a single night of absolute terror, madness, blood, and body horror.
Nobody has really ever gotten the whole “cosmic horror” thing of Lovecraft onto film. There’s been many great adaptations, but none have gotten this close to creating the feel of a Lovecraft story. Stanley knocks it out of the park here. This is a wonderful, strange, bizarre, terrifying little movie that could only be made by a man in touch with his inner shaman. That man is Richard Stanley, and he has created a true work of horror art. Surreal, terrifying, beautiful, and full of heart, the Color Out of Space is a massive achievement. They don’t make them like this anymore.
Four Buckets of Blood out of Four
Kelly is the author of dozens of stories and dozens of reviews, he likes to write, he likes to read, he likes going to the movies, and he loves to laugh. He hails from the wilds of Kentucky and if you'd like to see more of his work, check out his website: www.kellymhudson.com