Review: Lovecraft and Nic Cage meet at last in trippy 'Color Out of Space'

RLJE Films

RLJE Films

If movies have taught us anything, it’s that a meteor crashing to Earth is not a good thing. In director Richard Stanley’s new adaptation of the H.P. Lovecraft story “The Color Out of Space”—renamed Color Out of Space just to be difficult—the reality-splintering effects of a plummeted space rock, which disseminates an otherworldly hue never before seen on our planet, drive a mild-mannered family man played by Nicolas Cage so far over the brink he begins acting... well, like Nicolas Cage.

Cage is Nathan Gardner, a be-cardiganed gent who raises alpacas in his late father’s country home while his wife, Theresa (Joely Richardson), rakes in the cybercash brokering deals with clients in their attic. Their eldest son’s an aspiring stoner, their daughter’s an aspiring Wiccan, and their youngest son is an aspiring creepy-kid-with-glasses-in-a-horror-movie-who-stares-catatonically-and-talks-to-monsters-only-he-can-see. Tommy Chong squats on their land with hippie aplomb because why not. And into this idiosyncratic idyll strolls a dishy young hydrologist (Elliot Knight), who’s conveniently visiting town to survey the water table when the meteor hits. He soon discovers that Something Is Not Right.

And something sure as hell isn’t. The sickly, otherworldly color inexorably creeps into the film from the edges of the frame, futzing with flora and fauna alike at a cellular level if not deeper. Lightning storms, open wells, knives (kitchen and utility), animals of the domestic and farm variety, and staticky electronic devices all prove just as dangerous as you’d expect under the spooky circumstances. But there’s no greater threat to the Gardners than each other.

Capturing Lovecraft accurately onscreen is a perilous task—poor Guillermo del Toro struggled to adapt At the Mountains of Madness for years. Stanley is no stranger to doomed cinematic exploits, either: After making a name for himself in the early ’90s with a distinctive horror/sci-fi vision, he got canned from the Brando version of The Island of Doctor Moreau in 1996 for blowing his budget and hasn’t directed a non-documentary feature again till now. Lovecraft’s descriptions are literally unrepresentable—obviously you can’t film a color that doesn’t exist—but the lurid prismatic violetish Stanley hits on is more than sufficient to suspend disbelief, and when the extraterrestrial horror ultimately cracks reality wide open, the visuals deliver.

Well-crafted but without an A24 flick’s sense of fussy import, Color Out of Space plunges happily into the nonsensical when the time comes. The script suggests sublimated fears slowly being unleashed—Theresa’s lingering insecurity over her mastectomy, Nathan’s strained relationship with his father—but Stanley thankfully doesn’t push it too hard. For a film that begins rooted in familiar domesticity, the human stakes have all but vanished by the end—you don’t stay tuned in to see who survives, but for the jump scares and gross-outs, to see what grotesquerie is in store, and to watch a certain actor go off the rails. No one seeks out Nicolas Cage for character development, after all—you want pure Nic schtick.

And schtick you shall receive. Nic Cage lashing out at foul-tasting fruits and vegetables. Nic Cage affecting an accent that suggests the villain in a direct-to-Hulu Die Hard sequel. Nic Cage declaring “The car. Is not. Happening.” If you’re onboard with Cage’s lifelong mission to defy naturalist acting and portray human behavior in as many inaccurate ways as possible, this is a treat. At one point, one of Nathan’s kids asks the other, “Dad’s acting weird, right?,” and all you can do is shake your head and say, “Oh kid, you have no idea what you’re in for.”

Color Out of Space
directed by Richard Stanley
area theaters, now playing