(Screened at Fantastic Fest; release TBA.)
We all have our own personal biases when it comes to movies. For example, I am instantly curious to see any H.P. Lovecraft adaptation — partially because lots of his short stories and damn good but mostly because the man’s work is notoriously difficult to capture in a cinematic sense. Another bias that I cannot help but maintain is my affection for Nicolas Cage. Whether he’s low-key or over-the-top, Cage usually brings something interesting to any movie, even a really bad one.
Richard Stanley’s adaptation of Lovecraft’s The Colour Out of Space is a pretty damn good movie; it’s not only a worthy and fascinating adaptation of a very creepy sci-fi horror story (possibly one of Lovecraft’s best) but it also gives Nicolas Cage ample opportunity to do what he does best: low-key, mild-mannered sincerity as a goofy but devoted dad/husband, and a slow crescendo of enjoyable insanity as the tale goes from relatively sedate to full-bore cosmic mutation insanity.
A meteorite crashes down in the front yard of the Gardner family. Nathan (Cage) and Theresa (Joely Richardson) have an isolated farm, three (relatively) normal kids, and a bunch of goofy-looking alpacas running around their homestead. This odd but comfortable family unit is simply curious about the space rock to begin with, but (this being a Lovecraft tale) it isn’t long until the meteorite cracks open, unleashes some freaky spores, smells, and colors — and kickstarts a lot of horrific mutations.
Fans of the source material should be pleased to learn that director Richard Stanley (Hardware, Dust Devil) holds Lovecraft’s original material in high regard, but that doesn’t mean he’s not willing to alter character traits, story beats, and scary bits in the service of his own adaptation. It’s often said that Lovecraft is among the most difficult of authors to adapt for a visual medium — hell, half his schtick is telling his readers that a specific monster is simply too horrific to describe — but, much like Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator, From Beyond), Stanley and co-writer Scarlett Amaris have anticipated this problem from the beginning, and the more surreal material is balanced nicely with the essentials required for a traditional horror film.
Lovecraft aficionados will also appreciate how these filmmakers approach the author’s more “cosmic” sensibilities. Most of the Lovecraft movies we’ve seen so far have been focused on his monsters; Color Out of Space is one of the rare examples that risks delving into the author’s cosmic stew, and pulls it off without becoming too strange, convoluted, or silly. (For an example of how to mishandle this specific Lovecraft story, check out 1987’s The Curse.) (And for a fun riff on The Colour Out of Space, check out the “Jordy Verrill” story in 1980’s Creepshow.)
Color Out of Space earns high marks across the board in the arenas of cinematography, score, production design, and casting. Most of the movie takes place on an isolated farm, which means you have to be creative to keep your location interesting. Hiring Nicolas Cage as your lead is always an interesting idea, but the movie is also loaded with clever audio/visual touches that keep things feeling suitably weird. It kind of goes without saying that Cage eventually devolves into a “force of nature” performance, but it’s certainly worth mentioning that Joely Richardson provides is also quite good. Not only is she an essential counter-balance to Cage’s jittery energy, but she’s also asked to do some very difficult acting beneath layers of gooey latex, and she’s also really good at that stuff. Kudos as well to supporting players like Elliot Knight (the resident water expert), Madeleine Arthur (Cage’s witchy daughter), Brendan Meyer (the stoner son), and good ol’ Tommy Chong as a local recluse.
So take this firm recommendation as you will: I’m biologically pre-disposed to liking movies that are related to both H.P. Lovecraft and Nicolas Cage, which means this one hit me right in the proverbial wheelhouse. But putting those feelings aside, there’s simply a lot to like in this creepy, clever, creative rendition of a very old story that’s been updated by people who know what source material to keep — and which parts were worthy of omission. Tackling Lovecraft’s work is difficult for a wide array of reasons, so it’s pretty satisfying to find a new adaptation that works so well.