08th Jun2021

Rewind: ‘Color Out of Space’ Review

by Chris Thomas

Stars: Nicolas Cage, Joely Richardson, Madeleine Arthur, Elliot Knight, Tommy Chong, Brendan Meyer, Julian Hilliard, Josh C. Waller, Q’orianka Kilcher | Written by Richard Stanley, Scarlett Amaris | Directed by Richard Stanley

I consider myself to be a big fan of HP Lovecraft’s work. However, much like the band “Guided by Voices” I tend to subconsciously filter out an awful lot of quite poor output, and just remember the good bits.

Lovecraft wrote some great horror, but for the most part it is the greater Lovecraftian universe that the writer set up, that has the most interesting part of his legacy for me. A lot of his writing is, not the greatest and people are right to note the racism and fear that runs right through his works. I always get the sense that Lovecraft was quite a pathetic, pitiable, frightened man, eating his tinned green beans cold and being frightened to go out of his single room apartment. However, the film makes the right call and casts Elliott Knight as our young, heroic water company employee.

Color Out of Space is today one of the more well considered Lovecraft stories, that has been brought to our screens by Richard Stanley (20 years or more, since he was fired from The Island of Dr Moreau). The blowback of which killed his career stone dead. He WAS back, at least for a short time with Nicholas Cage, Joely Richardson, and enough pinky purple surrealism to fill the universe. The film version of Color Out of Space leans into its (really superficial) similarities with the Nicholas Cage gonzo revenge rampage Mandy. Both are feature surrealist horror, natural landscape, and a good deal of pinky purple light. It might be another 20 something years until we hear from Stanley again, after Scarlett Amaris (who also worked on the film) came out with accusations about Stanley, that had a planned trilogy cancelled.

Setting aside the racism and alleged abuse (wow, this review really sums up where we are in 2021, in a horrible way). The first thing to say is, this is a good, contemporary telling of the hundred-year-old short story. We are in the deep woods outside of Arkham. A man has brought his family to an old farm, following a serious operation the wife has. Before long, a meteor is crashing down in front of the house. It is surely no spoiler to say that the meteor is not bringing Christmas cheer from Space. It is bringing the weird color, and the ability to twist and distort time and the natural order of things.

Much like in Deliverance, there is going to be a new dam built, and everything is going to be covered in water, but is it going to be enough to wash over the horrible events that unfold in the film? At this point, I spent 10 minutes trying to work a Jean-Claude Van Damme pun, but I failed. Damme-it.

Color Out of Space is a slow moving, at times arty, surreal body horror where the theme of family runs through to the core. At times you will be shouting at the telly for our family to get the heck out of there, but that is the point. They are unable to, mentally or physically, because the thing that has taken up residence in the well will not let them. It does make for some mighty convenient horror plot filler, and I would fully understand if you refuse to buy into that. Color Out of Space is a very well made, nasty little film (in the best possible way). The direction, sound design and quality of the cinematography are all particularly good. The acting is also strong. I love the gonzo, surreal acting of Cage and Richardson in their Dad and Mum roles. As their minds start to bend in on themselves, doing pink contortions, their moods wax and wane, as their understanding of reality starts to wax and wane.

In a way the teenage daughter (played by Madeleine Arthur) is the heart of the piece, this awful tragedy is her tragedy. Rather than meeting a handsome young man and getting into teenage hijinks, she is self-harming and casting wicca spells in a vain attempt to keep her family safe. She is also the one telling her parents they need to get the heck out of there. Something that runs through Lovecraft’s work is the cold indifference of the universe, or of anything in it. There is no higher power coming down to save anyone, and knowledge tends to lead to madness and death, rather than enlightenment. Do not ask questions of the universe. This, cold indifference extends itself over Color Out of Space, do not expect the kids or animals to get away from the body horror.

This is not for all horror fans. If you like your monsters chopped up at the end, and you like your plot unambiguous then this slow, weird little film might not be for you. It is, very much for me however, I am glad I picked this up on Bluray, and I enjoyed it very much but I cannot imagine myself re watching more than a handful of times. Like the characters themselves, I am likely to fast forget what a powerful and nasty little horror this one was.

To put it in the context of “Guided by Voices” (I.e. in a way we can all relate to). Mandy is “Game of Pricks” and Color Out of Space is “A Big Fan of the Pigpen”.

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