Review: An over-the-top Nicolas Cage wigs out in H.P. Lovecraft’s ‘Color Out of Space’
So many writers and filmmakers have taken ideas from H.P. Lovecraft — both openly and slyly — that it’s tough to adapt any of the horror author’s original stories in a way that doesn’t come off as derivative. Even director Richard Stanley’s well-crafted take on the classic short story “The Colour Out of Space” smacks of “Body Snatchers,” “Annihilation” and any number of Stephen King movies … all of which are directly or indirectly Lovecraftian.
What Stanley’s film has going for it is its own trippy sense of “the alien.” Best known for the 1990 cult film “Hardware” (and for getting fired from the disastrous 1996 version of “The Island of Dr. Moreau”), Stanley has a unique sense of style. In his “Color Out of Space,” he visualizes a hostile invasion as a psychedelic happening, warping the perceptions of the humans under attack.
Nicolas Cage plays the primary human: Nathan Gardner, a dreamer and a drinker, who recently moved his family from the city to the Massachusetts farmlands, with the intention of raising alpacas and helping his stockbroker wife, Theresa (Joely Richardson), recover from her fight with breast cancer.
When the story begins, Theresa’s supporting the family with online trading (despite their house’s crummy Wi-Fi), while Nathan’s keeping a too-loose eye on both his animals and the Gardners’ teenage kids: a budding Wiccan named Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur) and a stoner named Benny (Brendan Meyer). They also have a grade-schooler, Jack (played by the engaging Julian Hilliard), who spends much of his days lost in his own imagination.
When a glowing meteorite lands on their property, Nathan alerts the authorities and the media. But then a lightning storm obliterates the rock before anyone else can get a good look at it, which doesn’t help his reputation for being something of a crackpot. Within days, the skies above the farm have turned a hazy neon purple, the local wildlife is mutating, and the Gardners — already a pretty strange family — are going absolutely bonkers.
Stanley and co-screenwriter Scarlett Amaris take a lot of time with the pre-meteorite set-up of “Color Out of Space.” Some of the movie’s best scenes come early, as the film establishes how Nathan’s hubris and insensitivity test his loved ones’ patience. There’s a richness of detail — all original to this picture, not drawn from Lovecraft — to the way the whole family has been inconvenienced by their patriarch’s whims.
Once the action ramps up, the aforementioned over-familiarity of these kinds of horror stories becomes a bit of a drag, with the same old scenes of an alien artifact brainwashing unsuspecting humans, and the worn-out cliche of a seemingly genteel family man taking a dark turn. It doesn’t help that Cage — as has been his wont in B-movies lately — goes over-the-top even when he doesn’t need to, doing a heightened accent that distracts from imagery that’s already plenty bizarre.
But Stanley rallies down the stretch, after the film takes a turn toward the purely phantasmagorical. Plenty of filmmakers have put Lovecraft’s many-tentacled extraterrestrial creatures onto the screen, but “Color Out of Space” illustrates a hue — and a mood — that’s much more abstract. The movie is most successful when it ditches the particulars of the text and just grooves on how it feels to be displaced and disgruntled, stranded in a surreal mindscape that in some ways makes just as much sense as any other day on a dreary alpaca ranch.
'Color Out of Space'
Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes
Playing: Starts Jan. 24 in limited release
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