Richard Stanley’s H.P. Lovecraft adaptation The Colour Out Of Space is a wonderfully weird cosmic horror freak-out featuring Nicolas Cage at his most bizarre.
Horror fans will be reminded of Panos Cosmatos’s Mandy, another film in which Nic Cage is driven insane by bizarre supernatural forces (both films were produced by Elijah Wood’s SpectreVision). And while The Colour Out of Space doesn’t quite hit the insane highs of Cosmatos’s opus, it benefits from a similar sense of unhinged surrealism and a stronger ensemble.
The Gardener family are an eccentric but likeable bunch, living on a picaresque farm on the outskirts of Arkham. Jim Gardener (Cage) is a loving husband and parent, but seems a little unfulfilled; he’s haunted by memories of his own undermining father, and seems to have been conned into investing in a herd of alpacas as “the meat of the future.” His wife Theresa (Joely Richardson) is a cancer survivor and career woman struggling with the family’s recent move to “the sticks.” Their teen daughter (Madeleine Arthur) is a budding witch, their eldest son (Brendan Meyer) a stoner prone to hanging out with the old hippie who squats on the property (Tommy Chong in his best role since Up in Smoke). Jack, the youngest child, is imaginative and sensitive, and thus the first to feel the effects of the Colour when it hits their field in the form of a meteor.
The movie pays lip service to Lovecraft’s unfilmable concept of an unidentifiable colour that doesn’t exist on any earthly spectrum. Visually, the phenomenon manifests as a brilliant, purply pink that ricochets through the sky and slowly infects the earth. Water goes bad, strange fruit starts to grow, and local animals (from wild birds to housecats) mutate into skinless monstrosities. Cage’s character also succumbs to madness, which manifests in violent outbursts and a terrible Christopher Walken impression. (It’s an inspired performance).
The film is a phantasmagorical delight, with kaleidoscopic visuals, oddball dialogue, and quirky humour off-setting the existential dread of the premise. (The majority of Lovecraft’s works are overwhelmingly grim; a film adaptation without a sense of humour would surely collapse under its own self-seriousness). The movie also doubles down (literally) on the gross-out elements of the original story, with some truly freakish images.
That’s not to say Colour doesn’t have heart. The Gardener family is lovingly rendered, and it’s wrenching to see them torn apart considering all they’ve already been through. (A sequence where an increasingly manic Jim executes his deformed herd of alpacas, and then goes to put his dying wife out of her misery, is played for laughs but really isn’t funny at all).
The only part that really doesn’t work is a half-assed sub-plot involving a ruthless local mayor who wants to buy the Gardeners’s land. Her scenes exist only for expository purposes, and have the unintentional effect of taking you out of the film’s wonderfully insulated world.
Elliot Knight, however, is excellent as a well-intentioned surveyor who tries in vain to rescue the family from certain doom. It would be easy to overlook the “straight man” in a movie that revels so much in its own strangeness, but as the family’s last link to reality, his role is crucial. Ward is the only person still invested in saving the Gardeners after they’ve lost the will to save themselves, and the only rational man left alive to bear witness. Knight’s performance is un-showy but compelling: in a pair of bookend scenes, he manages to make Lovecraft’s signature purplish prose seem natural, delivering the story’s final lines as a haunted soliloquy.
Title: The Colour Out Of Space
Director: Richard Stanley
Screenwriters: Richard Stanley & Scarlett Amaris