October heralds the start of Spooky Season – and I’ve already gone way out of my comfort zone to get into the spirit of Halloween by watching the demented Mandy, a film which shares its producers and star – Nicolas Cage – with Color Out of Space.
An adaptation of an HP Lovecraft story, Color Out of Space marks the return to directing of Richard Stanley, who made two low budget movies (Hardware and Dust Devil) in the early 90s before an over-ambitious, doomed attempt to make his dream project – an adaptation of HG Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau – led him away from feature length filmmaking altogether (incidentally, the fascinating documentary on the making of The Island of Dr Moreau – Lost Soul – is well worth a watch).
It’s good to see Stanley back in the Director’s chair nearly thirty years after his punky sci-fi Hardware hit screens; it’s even better to see that the decades haven’t dulled his edgy, dark sensibilities or knack for beautifully framed visuals either.
Color Out of Space sees the Gardner family – headed up by Cage as Nathan and an excellent Joely Richardson as Theresa – living a relatively secluded life on a small, remote farm. Their slightly fragile domesticity and reasonably quiet existence is shattered by the arrival of a strange meteorite that crashes in their yard; oozing otherworldly colours and transforming everything it comes into contact with. Eventually, even the family themselves are changed – both mentally and physically.
The film has a very slow, deliberate build up; it’s a quiet film at first with some absolutely stunning imagery. That serenity gradually melts away, however, with a series of increasingly grim events that culminate in some seriously disturbing, drawn out body horror. It’s brutally effective.
The use of colour, as you’d expect, is similarly fantastic. It builds in a similar way to the overall tone of the film; as the ‘Color’ from the meteorite grows, so too does the intensity and insanity of the story. There’s some fantastic CGI work, not just in the usage of colour but also with some brilliant creature and environmental designs. Physical effects are also used effectively too, with some horrific prosthetic work that in some cases recall classic practical work in films such as John Carpenter’s The Thing.
Though there’s a number of great performances in the film – even a surprising one from Tommy Chong – it is of course Cage who gives perhaps the most memorable turn; his freakouts here, as with Mandy, fitting with the overall tone and craziness of the events unfolding around him. The usage of Cage and colour is perhaps where the similarities to Mandy end though; this is a far more subdued film for the most part (though that’s not saying much – Mandy is one hell of a sensory overload).
There’s so many nods to Lovecraft that I really appreciated, many that are quite subtle. It’s a very effective adaptation of a Lovecraft story that I wouldn’t have expected to work very well from a cinematic sense – it’s great to hear that Stanley is working on bringing more Lovecraft to the screen (though, given his terrible luck in getting projects to fruition, maybe it’s not worth getting prematurely excited about that).
Color Out of Space is another triumph for the SpectreVision production company (co-founded by none other than Elijah Wood) and Nicolas Cage then – and a triumphant, belated return to the Director’s chair for Richard Stanley. It’s a dark, disturbing tale full of beautiful and horrific imagery, sometimes at the same time – a fascinating trip into sci-fi tinged cosmic horror that isn’t afraid to go to some very dark, if colourful, places.
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