By JAMES TUCKER
Starring: Nicholas Cage, Madeleine Arthur, Joely Richardson
Directed by Richard Stanley
Written by Richard Stanley, Scarlett Amaris
Produced by SpectreVision, ACE Pictures Entertainment
I probably don’t need to write a column telling you why you should watch COLOR OUT OF SPACE, Shudder’s latest exclusive and the return of director Richard Stanley. But I’m going to do it anyways because every once in a while, critics deserve nice things too. COLOR OUT OF SPACE is a terraforming of Lovecraft’s original tale, a transposition of it into modernity with plenty of body horror, a beautifully insane performance from Nic Cage, and the occasional inclusion of the trappings of modern Lovecraftian horror. In short, it’s near perfect.
One of the most significant changes up front is that Stanley drags Lovecraft’s two-dimensional characters off the page and transforms them, making them three-dimensional, dysfunctional, and in some ways almost caricature-like in their depiction of modernity. Nathan Gardner (Nic Cage) has moved back to his late father’s farm in an attempt to get away from the hustle and bustle of modern society and discover a simpler, better life; his wife, on the other hand, tries to bring the city with her, fighting a weak internet connection as she desperately attempts to maintain and grow her business. The kids are more or less archetypical; the rebellious metalhead teen, the stoner teen with no responsibilities, and the babe in the woods who needs to be protected but can still talk to demons. And early on the film seems to want to make some kind of commentary on the state of the modern American family: Nathan is lost in a dream of reclaiming a lost part of himself, being a rugged, self-sustaining manly man, while Theresa is nearly completely consumed by the corporate world, spending little time with her family; the kids are just along for the ride, trying to survive their family’s insanity and dysfunction with Lavinia (in particular) steaming with resentment over their family’s move.
“It’s notoriously hard to adapt Lovecraft’s work in a satisfying way; and yet Stanley manages it, accurately portraying the titular menace and supplementing it with body horror, humor, and the perfect amount of Nicholas Cage.”
Then the Color arrives, and all of that potential commentary on the state of the modern world is pushed aside. Which initially disappointed me until I realized that it doesn’t matter anymore, as the world as the Gardners know it has ended; stuck in an impending apocalyptic scenario that they don’t completely understand, they only have each other to depend on, and the Color exploits that. As the Color infects and changes the world around them, catapulting our characters into situations that reach more and more extreme levels of “what the fuck,” the Color manipulates and plays upon their relationships with one another to produce whole new worlds of horror. Nathan grapples with his relationship with his father and becomes abusive and controlling as a result, a bond between two of the characters results in an outcome that would make Brian Yuzna proud, and Lavinia gets to escape the confines of her family and seek something higher. Whether the Color is acting like the demon in Hereditary, exploiting the conflicts between family members to achieve what it wants, or like the genie from Wishmaster, finding the most perverse ways possible to fulfill our characters’ hidden wishes, is immaterial; they are who they are, they are human (therefore frail and weak), and they will be consumed.
We will never truly know what the Color is, although Stanley does try and give us a window into its history (a move that might piss off diehard Lovecraft fans who insist that everything should remain a complete mystery; hey, that rhymed). The bottom line is, it’s a catastrophe that comes upon the Gardners without warning, that changes the landscape (literally and figuratively) of the world they live in and forces them to adapt or perish. That can mean a lot of things for viewers in 2020, reflecting both the impending threat of climate change and the pandemic eating through cities and countries alike. But if you’d rather not think of that, you can sit back and enjoy the beautiful and appropriately terrifying lighting and CG effects, the strange but alluring sense of humor Nic Cage brings to the role even as he goes… well, as insane as he tends to in these roles, and the amalgamation of body horror and existential dread that represents the Color at it’s most developed. This movie is the definition of entertainingly batshit, an inventive and satisfying Lovecraftian B-movie that everyone should see at least once.
If that sounds like something you’d be interested in, check it out. I’m giving it a 9.
Next week, we take a slight detour, reviewing a new film from another platform.
Are you still reading this? Go see this movie! You won’t regret it.