THE COLOR OUT OF SPACE [Film Review]: Lovecraft, and Stanley, and Cage, Oh My!

“El Sacerdote” J.L. Caraballo Twitter @captzaff007

Director Richard Stanley — infamous for the fiasco that was The Island Of Doctor Moreau, which resulted in his being replaced by John Frankenheimer after just a week, and Stanley literally disappearing into the jungle — has found himself once again behind the camera adapting HP Lovecraft‘s The Color Out Of Space. As a connoisseur of Lovecraftian madness and weird fiction, my interest was particularly piqued, but was much more so once the star of the show was revealed: Nicolas Cage himself. The sold-out show at Brooklyn’s Alamo Drafthosue proved the perfect place with which to experience this particular kind of madness, with a pre-recorded Q&A afterwards the proverbial cherry on top.

Nicolas Cage stars as Nathan Gardner, father and alpaca(?!) farmer, living with his wife Theresa (Joely Richardson), goth/wiccan daughter Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur), and sons, young Jack, and stoner Benny (Julian Hilliard, and Brendan Meyer, respectively), as well as groundskeeper Ezra (Tommy Chong). After a brief introduction to Elliot Knight‘s water toxicologist Ward Phillips, the Gardner homestead is soon the site of a bizarre meteorite crash, which affects the plants and livestock, draining toxins into the nearby water supply, and slowly driving the Gardner family (isolated enough already due to the location of their homestead) violently insane.

“Love what you did with the place.”

Eldritch horror is nothing new to film, and as an updated adaptation of Lovecraft’s story, Stanley’s film hits the right notes of unnerving tone, mystery, unexplained weirdness, dread, and mind-shredding insanity against cosmic forces humans were never meant to witness. The casting of Joely Richardson is apt, as she not only balances world-weary late motherhood with a growing madness, but also dabbled in cosmic horror back in 1997’s Event Horizon (one of my persona guilty pleasures). Once the story is ready to let loose with cosmic insanity, this movie is beautiful, moody fun: composer Colin Stetson‘s ethereal score underscores the impending dread, creating a lusciously dense melody. Steve Annis‘s cinematography is absolutely gorgeous to look at: once the second act kicks in and the indescribable Color of the title starts seeping in, it is a visual delight. This movie also revels in body horror and practical effects that rival anything from John Carpenter or David Cronenberg, which goes a long way in adding some much-appreciated realism to the film’s unfolding horror.

All that aside…

Editor Brett W. Bachman…who lends his talents here…also edited last year’s Mandy. Those who remember my assessment of that film will remember well my issue with the editing: that film feels like two completely different films with a single connective scene in the middle. Here, Bachman draws out the pacing of the first act in such a way that there are several threads introduced that tend not to lead anywhere (cutting to shots of Lavinia’s bare feet, and then, later on, to her booted feet, seemed to cast importance on them, but went nowhere). As much as the pacing is affected, the tone is likewise affected in the first act, as, despite the tone being much lighter, a bit of emphasis is on Cage’s at-times-bizarre line readings. He is supposed to be a normal family man driven insane by cosmic forces, but whether by editing, or directorial choices, some of the laughs he produced were a bit too broad.

Bachman’s connection to Mandy was brought up in the post-film Q&A, curated by Patton Oswalt, who, on introducing director Stanley, exclaimed, “Hollywood couldn’t kill him! The jungle couldn’t kill him! Brando couldn’t kill him!” Stanley remains soft-spoken and still a bit uncomfortable within the spotlight, yet still at ease, not being bothered sharing the spotlight with his costars (present were Meyer, Knight, and Arthur, with Nic Cage — wearing a spiked leather jacket — calling for them to join him on the stage).

Stanley was all too happy to provide his extensive history of Lovecraft, as his mother used to read him Lovecraft’s stories growing up, and he returned the favor to her in her declining years. When Oswalt commented on the color scheme of the film, and the unnerving beauty therein, Stanley brought out a rather profound observation that “beauty has no standard of morality…the end of the world is likely to be as beautiful as its creation“.

Perhaps most promisingly, Stanley confirmed that this is but the first of a trilogy of Lovecraft adaptations he is tackling, the next being the celebrated Dunwich Horror. Whether Nicolas Cage is returning is anyone’s guess, but with Stanley at the helm, it will be highly anticipated once a release date is set. 4/5 Necronomicons.

-J.L. Caraballo

Color Out Of Space is now playing in limited release.

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