TIFF 2019: COLOR OUT OF SPACE Review – Gorgeous, Scary, Unhinged
Starring Nicolas Cage, Joely Richardson, Madeleine Arthur, Brendan Meyer, Julian Hilliard, Elliot Knight
Written by Scarlett Amaris, Richard Stanley
Directed by Richard Stanley
Apart from the scarlet splashes of blood that spray across the screen, the horror color palette, as many believe, has long leaned more towards the darker side of the spectrum, muted tones exuding atmosphere. Pitch black shadows hold the terror of our imagination while rust browns and fungal greens make our skin crawl. But that hasn’t always been the case, as has been shown in Suspiria, The Cell, The Shining, and, more recently, Midsommar and SpectreVision title Daniel Isn’t Real. Vibrant color explodes across the screen, heightening emotion and alluring the audience.
Richard Stanley’s Color Out of Space takes its name quite literally, a gorgeous pink/purple light descending from the heavens that envelopes the Gardner house and everyone inside as a meteorite slams into their front lawn. As one would expect from a Lovecraft adaptation, this event doesn’t come without consequences and dire ones they are indeed. Each member of the Gardners is affected differently, patriarch Nathan (Cage) perpetually beset by a rancid aroma, matriarch Theresa’s anger and distraction mounting, and son Jack Jack (Hilliard) suddenly in the company of several imaginary friends, all of whom seem to live in house’s nearby well. Brother Benny (Meyer) and sister Lavinia (Arthur) don’t seem to be as troubled by their new mysterious surroundings but that doesn’t mean they are immune to its effects. Even hydrologist Wade (Knight), a spectator to the goings-on, is caught up in the oddities.
As the film progresses, the effects of the meteorite and the strange color become more and more pronounced, physical manifestations appearing in shocking, yet delightful, practical glory. Creatures here resemble a cross between Cronenberg’s eXistenZ and Carpenter’s The Thing, the latter almost shockingly so during a scene involving alpacas. While CG is used to augment much of what we see, make no mistake about it: the movie isn’t afraid to put its actors through the wringer.
The script ripped straight out of the ’80s, it’s easy to imagine David Gale, Barbara Crampton, and Jeffrey Combs taking the roles of Nathan, Theresa, and Wade, respectively. Colin Stetson’s original score is pulsing with lush synth pads, a modern take on the Sequential Circuits Prophet-5-fueled glory.
Color Out of Space is a stunningly beautiful film. Those who were entranced by the visuals of Annihilation will delight in finding the second part of their “nature is fucking crazy” double-bill. As the meteorite’s influence spreads, extra-terrestrial flowers begin sprouting while shimmering waves of pollen deceive and confuse the main characters. The monsters, while undoubtedly grotesque, are a marvel to behold. The production design transforms this seemingly bland New England farmstead into an alien landscape, one becomes tantalizingly familiar the more it strays from humanity.
One of the film’s missteps is in an overly long first act and a convoluted third act that favors grandiosity over emotional punch. Admittedly, it’s an awe-inspiring series of visuals but that only goes so far when I simply don’t care about the characters involved.
Cage can add Color Out of Space to the list of his beloved unhinged performances but many of the times when he loses it actually feel real and raw. It’s when he’s supposed to be more muted that he takes on a strange Trump-like affectation that feels decidedly out of place.
Storylines that are supposed to offer deeper meaning fall flat, such as Theresa’s breast cancer that’s announced early on and abandoned just as fast, or Lavinia’s fascination with pagan rituals that do little more than give an excuse for self-mutilation.
Gripes aside, there is more to love than there is to criticize with Color Out of Space. If this movie marks the return of Richard Stanely to narrative filmmaking, it’s one helluva resurrection.
Gorgeous, vibrant, and terrifying, Color Out of Space is packed with Lovecraftian creatures and cosmic infections galore. It’s not perfect but goddamn is it a wild ride.