Color Out of Space
Nicolas Cage gets wild and weird — again — in this kaleidoscopic spectacle of a horror film, which adapts a HP Lovecraft story.
February 06, 2020
He's the king of the unhinged, the master of on-screen mania and perhaps the only person that can make pouring vodka all over themselves while howling look perfectly natural. He is, of course, the one and only Nicolas Cage. While his resume boasts more ups and downs than a rollercoaster — an Oscar for Leaving Las Vegas on one side, his oh-so-many forgettable straight-to-video flicks on the other — he's also the ideal person to lead Lovecraftian horror adaptation Color Out of Space. Whenever Cage keeps things quiet and normal, he evokes the unnerving sensation that perhaps everything is too quiet and normal. When he's letting loose, there's really no telling what could happen next. A film about a glowing meteor that crashes on an alpaca farm and not only forever changes a family's existence, but their entire grasp on reality, Color Out of Space needs both Cage's unsettlingly calm and brain-bogglingly over-the-top sides. More than that, it thrives on them.
Six months after his wife Theresa's (Joely Richardson) mastectomy, Nathan Gardner's (Cage) life is settling back into a routine. With their three kids — stoner Benny (Brendan Meyer), wannabe wicca Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur) and primary school-aged Jack (Julian Hillard) — the couple has taken over Nathan's late father's remote New England property, lapping up its tree-lined surroundings and the slower pace that comes with it. The oddest thing they have to deal with: Nathan's certainty that alpacas are the future. Well, that and the grin on his face when he's milking the woolly animals. Then, just as a hydrologist (Elliot Knight) arrives to survey the farm's water, a blazing rock plummets from the heavens — turning the sky an otherworldly shade of fuchsia, unleashing both radiation and shape-shifting aliens, and sparking quite the wave of strange events.
'Strange' is a relative term in any given situation; what's unusual to one person mightn't seem all that out of the ordinary to someone else. But by combining a HP Lovecraft short story, the beacon of weird that is Cage, and a director known for making vivid and distinctive movies, Color Out of Space is emphatically, undeniably strange — regardless of your individual threshold for the bizarre. That filmmaker is Richard Stanley, who gained attention with a couple of sci-fi and horror flicks in the early 90s. Since 1996, he's been best known for being fired from the big Marlon Brando-starring flop The Island of Doctor Moreau. Stanley hasn't actually directed a fictional feature since, sticking to a few documentaries until now — and based on the hallucinatory imagery splashed across Color Out of Space's pink and purple-hued frames, he has decades of strangeness stored up.
When Cage begins yelling maniacally, the farm's water turns sinister, grotesque critters start scuttling around and mutated flesh begins to feature heavily, Color Out of Space unleashes all of its absurd and peculiar wonders. When Cheech & Chong's Tommy Chong plays one of the most sensible characters — a hermit squatting on the Gardners' land, and the first person to verbalise his suspicions about the luminous boulder and its effects — this head trip of a film demonstrates that it's definitely not on any standard wavelength. It actually takes 40 slow-burning minutes until Color Out of Space dazzles viewers with its batshit antics, just like its incandescent rock gradually overpowers everyone in its vicinity, but the feature's first act is anything but subdued. Festering with unease, as aided by Steve Annis' (I Am Mother) vibrant cinematography and Colin Stetson's (Hereditary) psychedelic score, this movie is just waiting to explode with mind-bending havoc. Considering that it's also a film about the mess that follows a disease like cancer, simmering with distress then breaking out in chaos always feels supremely fitting.
Still, much like Cage at his most Cage-esque — running around the streets claiming he's undead in 80s curio Vampire's Kiss springs to mind, as does every second of 90s action blockbuster Face/Off — Colour Out of Space is a movie that sometimes approaches its limits. It means to push them. In fact, given its source material and Lovecraft's renowned fondness for all things monstrous, it has to. When an otherwise ordinary family is being driven mad by a colourful meteor in visually, emotionally and physically disturbing ways, a mood of relentlessness and ridiculousness is wholly appropriate. But, as glorious as the movie's gleefully bonkers sights, sounds and story developments all are, they can threaten to weigh the feature down. The Gardners are no longer experiencing time in a normal way, and audiences can be forgiven for feeling like they're going through the same process. Stanley turns Lovecraft's wild, weird tale into an off-kilter kaleidoscopic spectacle — and another suitably strange entry on Cage's lengthy resume, naturally — but occasionally lets it get a little too lost in its own delirium.