Movie Review: ‘Color Out of Space’

Director: Richard Stanley

Cast: Nicolas Cage, Joely Richardson, Madeleine Arthur, Brendan Meyer, Julian Hillard, Elliot Knight, Tommy Chong

Plot: A family moves out to a farm to raise alpacas while the matriarch recovers from a surgery. A meteorite crashes onto their property and begins having an unusual effect on the nearby flora and fauna.

Review: It’s very rare to see a direct adaptation of a H.P. Lovecraft story in the form of a big budget movie. Something about the material makes it ill-suited to a visual medium…I suspect it being all the monsters, portals and events being ‘indescribable’. It’s hard to put a colour that has never before seen on Earth in a movie as, well, how do you make a new colour for your movie? Is such a thing even possible? It could be seen as the ultimate creative challenge!

Purple. They went with purple. Kind of a pinkish purple. I wouldn’t say anything if it wasn’t the title of the movie. They’ve done pretty well in this regard, having settled on a clear visual tone and design for the ‘colour’, and even if the colour bothers you the neon aspect gives it a suitably ethereal feel and the way it moves and spreads adds to the other-wordly aspect. As the effects of the alien intruder begin to take hold in difCferent ways the clear visual cue functions in an additional narrative sense, as it ties all the disparate threads together.

Whilst this movie stays close to the beats of the short story, it does flesh out the story and characters. A Lovecraft trope is having an unnamed narrator stumbling onto unusual happenings. Instead we have Ward Phillips (Knight), a hydrologist, arriving at the Gardner property to conduct some tests on the water. He meets the Gardner family, comprising of practising Wiccan Lavinia (Arthur), stoned out Benny (Brendan), precocious Jack (Hillard), optimistic patriarch Nathan (Cage) and business woman matriarch Theresa (Richardson). They’re a dysfunctional family unit who argue and fight but also sit down to dinner together. At the core of tension between them is the move to the farm and trying to get a fresh start, raise alpacas and allow Theresa recover from as mastectomy. Also on the property is paranoid hippy squatter Ezra (Chong pretty much playing himself) who is a harmless addition to the landscape.

When a purple rock crashes from the sky there are immediate effects, causing visual distortions and seizures. Jack falls ill and mute while Nathan complains about a terrible stink coming from the impact zone. Ward, the mayor and the sheriff turn up to check it out, and mostly disappear from the movie until the end. As the days pass more unusual occurrences are noted, such as plants and insects turning purple, Jack claiming something is down the well and electronics beginning to fail. Theresa suffers a psychotic episode and chops her own fingers off while cooking, leaving the children alone while Nathan drives her to hospital.

The feeling of isolation is an important building block in the sense of dread on the Gardner farm. With the removal of the parents and the lack of working phones we feel the suspicions and distrust building among the siblings. As time passes differently for them, they kind lost in the wilderness and they begin to theorise about the cause of it all and plan to leave the area. By the time Nathan and Theresa return shit as truly hit the fan. We escalate into paranoid delusions and body horror as Nathan channels his father and Theresa horribly begins absorbing Jack into her body until she resembles a monstrous spider.

What makes a summary so problematic is that there’s no true main character to follow. We flit between Lavinia and Nathan as our point of view characters from scene to scene, with Ward taking the reins when they both start losing their minds. As mentioned before, Ward drops out of the story for a large chunk of the second act, making it more awkward when he does return for the third act and becomes the last sane person amid the chaos. We get glimpses into the source of the alien intrusion but no clear explanation, as its implied that it’s beyond human understanding. There could be a stronger emotional impact here if we had followed one character through the nightmare rather than gaining and losing perspectives as we go.

In terms of making a direct adaptation of a H.P. Lovecraft story, this is as close to accurate as we’ve gotten in a big budget feature film. Whilst In the Mouth of Madness is a great Lovecraft movie it takes influence from the whole lore rather than one specific story. The body horror, the inexplicable alien presence, being driven to madness by ideas beyond comprehension – these are all integral to the Lovecraft style and they’re really well implemented. The themes of body autonomy and family are more modern, but a welcome replacement for Lovecraft’s typical xenophobic themes. All of it is tied together with a dash of campiness that prevents it from becoming pretentious. I mean…it does have Nicolas Cage.

If you want to get some solid Lovecraft for a modern age, or a left of centre horror, then take to time to fear the purple.

Rating: EIGHT out of TEN