H.P Lovecraft’s influence is fundamental to modern horror, it can be seen most strongly in the DNA of countless Stephen King stories, John Carpenter’s Apocalypse Trilogy (The Thing, Prince of Darkness & In the Mouth of Madness), Event Horizon, the video game Bloodbourne and the Alien series, its influence is often met with varying success but direct adaptations have been few and far between.
For years there has been talk of a Guillermo Del Toro helmed At the Mouth of Madness that seemed to ultimately stall thanks to Ridley Scott’s Prometheus stealing it’s philosophical fire.
Stuart Gordon was probably the most successful, or at least prolific adaptor of H.P’s work with Re-Animator, From Beyond and Dagon, all adaptations of Lovecraft short stories (Dagon being an amalgam), but these all held a considerable helping of cheese, camp and tongue in cheek that, for the most part, enshrined their cult status (how appropriate).
Recently though there must be something contaminating the well water because within the last 6 months we had 3 films massively inspired by the H.P Lovecraft; Underwater, The Lighthouse, and the most faithful of the 3, Color Out of Space.
We start at the edge of a river, west of the fictional rural town of Arkham, Massachusetts, as the young Lavinia Gardner (Madeleine Arthur) performs a ritual of healing.
Here she meets Ward (Elliot Knight), a surveyor taking water readings.
In the original story Ward was our nameless narrator but in this tale he has far more involvement with the story developing a bit of an attraction to the aspiring young witch.
Six months ago Lavinia’s father Nathan (Nicholas Cage) moved his family to this country house so that his wife Theresa (Joely Richardson) could recover from her mastectomy.
Rounding out the family is Brother’s Benny and the young Jack (Brendan Meyer & Julian Hilliard respectively).
The whole Gardner family have been struggling with the adjustment, Nathan has been trying his hand as a tomato farmer and raiser of alpacas, Theresa is struggling with her financial consolation business thanks to the shitty internet connection, Benny has been smoking weed with the local hermit Ezra (Tommy Chong) and Jack is self-isolating taking solace in the family dog.
The change in their lives is dwarfed entirely when a meteorite crashes in their front yard one night with a flash of light and colour never seen before on this earth.
What follows is a slow descent into insanity as the cosmic colour spreads transforming the landscape and life around it and warping the minds of the Gardner family.
This is Director Richard Stanley’s feature length return to our screens since the disastrous ‘Island of Dr. Moreau’ which was filled with all of the meddling and power struggles that this film feels utterly devoid of.
Stanley’s vision is what we are seeing.
Now this is a relatively low budget indie flick ($12 Million budget) sometimes you can feel it but for the most part I think they make this film feel so much bigger.
It is a really gorgeous looking film with a mostly excellent use of CGI, particularly when it’s used to create the near alien landscape that this quaint little farmhouse transforms into, sharpening colours and extending the mutations surrounding them.
Fans of gooey body horror will be pleased with a lot of the practical effects used here as well, one particular change in the family is deeply disturbing and honestly heartbreaking.
You can certainly feel the influence of other films of its ilk (The Mist, From Beyond, The Thing) but it has a strong enough identity and a visual flair that the homages never feel like all this film has to offer.
It is a deeply creepy film as the characters are separated yet so close to each other, lost in the fog their minds have become, where time has lost meaning and they just don’t notice how wrong things have become.
The Composer, Colin Stetson, has created a truly beautiful score that compliments the growing mutation and helps make the titular colour, a pinkish purple, feel more than a colour, more than a sound.
Pacing wise Color Out of Space may lag a little in the second act but that eerie feeling never goes away.
Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a wholly serious film and a big part of that is thanks to Nicholas Cage.
Now the Nic Cage we get in the first half of the film is a dorky and daggy Dad, feeling relatively restrained compared to his recent output but once the alien insanity starts to spread Cage turns up the dial with gusto.
I would say there’s almost a little bit of Jack Nicholson in the Shining, where the character already feels a little unhinged when we first meet him so when the jump happens it doesn’t feel like that big a change, having said that though he is still a lot of fun and there are many ridiculous lines he spouts off that you couldn’t even comprehend another more self-serious actor taking a stab at.
The rest of the cast are really complimentary, bringing to life this struggling family beset by a greater force.
This is Joely Richardson’s second eldritch horror outing after the late 90’s Event Horizon, and as Theresa she brings the balance that makes her and Nathan’s relationship feel a lot more believable, struggling to spark their intimacy after her operation.
And the trio of kids, who really take the main stage after Mom and Dad drive off for medical help, give really good performances developing a believable sibling dynamic that carries most of this film.
For the most part I really enjoyed this film, it’s a kaleidoscopic quagmire of madness with a brilliant score, fun performances and excellent goo.
It might not fully land it’s ending which for me is a hard blow to recover from, reducing it from my favourite Cosmic Horror film to just one of the better ones and like most of the Lovecraft adaptations of the past this will not be for everyone but it’s a hell of a ride if you’ll brave the eldritch horrors of the Color Out of Space.
- Oscar Jack
Color Out of Space is available to view via Video On Demand
from Wed, 6th May