Main cast: Nicolas Cage (Nathan Gardner), Joely Richardson (Theresa Gardner), Madeleine Arthur (Lavinia Gardner), Brendan Meyer (Benny Gardner), Julian Hilliard (Jack Gardner), Elliot Knight (Ward Phillips), O’orianka Kilcher (Mayor Tooma), Tommy Chong (Ezra), and Josh C Waller (Sheriff Pierce)
Director: Richard Stanley
This movie is the latest adaptation of HP Lovecraft’s Colour Out of Space, the last mainstream English outing being The Curse back in 1987 if I recall correctly. This one retains the fundamental concepts of the story, but it commits one fatal flaw: it over-explains things and hence robs itself of much of its cosmic horror factor.
After his wife Theresa’s mastectomy, Nathan Gardner moves his entire family to a farmstead, presumably in Arkham, where he then starts breeding alpacas and planting his own crops. His family is far from pleased with this development. Theresa has self-esteem issues, as she doesn’t feel feminine or sexy anymore after losing her breasts, and her temper boils when the unstable internet connection in this part of the world starts causing her to lose her clients from the big city one by one. Lavinia takes up Wicca and prays for her mother’s health as well as her own escape from this place, while Benny spends his time smoking weed with the local eccentric Ezra. The youngest kid, Jack, keeps to himself and prefers the company of the family dog Sam. Stumbling onto the scene is Ward Phillips, who is from the mayor’s office and shows up here to survey the water table in anticipation of the mayor’s upcoming hydroelectric dam project.
The fun begins when, one night, a meteor crashes onto the Gardners’ farm and emits bright pink-purple tendrils. Before they know it. people start going crazy while plants and creatures around the meteor crash site begin to mutate horrifically. That’s before the tendrils begin aggressively seeking out prey…
Well, the nice things first. Richard Stanley seems to know and respect the source material, with the movie having some really beautiful yet eerie scenery to create this unsettling vibe. Sure, everything looks peaceful at first, but already there are simmering resentment and tension underneath it all. The cast is all solid, even that brat, although a part of me is cringing in anticipation of Nicolas Cage’s trademark screaming-shrieking lunatic baboon act that is apparently mandated in his every movie contract.
Somewhat ironically perhaps, the most frightening moments of this movie lie in the more conventional first forty or so minutes, when the nature of the scares is psychological and visceral. It’s just people slowly losing their minds. It can be terrifying to see how someone one is close to turns into a stranger – a menacing one at that.
In the last third of the movie, things come to boil with body horror and fluorescent CGI splattering all over the screen. This is when the movie falls apart. Things become increasingly over the top, and Mr Cage, who had been admirably restrained up to that point, turns into that cartoon character that he plays every single time. Worse, the scares here are unintentionally hilarious – I actually laugh at the “killed by a tree” scene because it looks so ridiculous – only to culminate in an acid trip of pink and purple explosion.
What happened? Did the studio mandate a more “exciting” ending for the movie? Then again, I recall this director’s past efforts and realize that those efforts tend to swing wildly from a more hard-hitting, psychological kind of horror to over the top, absurdist camp and back again without much rhyme or reason. Maybe this uneven tone is Mr Stanley’s thing, I guess?
Worse, the movie also offers all kinds of explanation about the nature and origin of the meteor. It’s the 2011 The Thing all over again – once you reveal too much about the source of terror, especially when the revelation is made through some dodgy-looking CGI, things become far less frightening as a result. The Thing becomes a badly rendered toothy vagina monster, and the… things in this movie are revealed to be purple-pink CGI effects that cast everything in an ugly eye-piercing tint. How is anyone going to be scared by that? Here, the origin of the meteor is revealed through a pointlessly unnecessary tape recording left behind by an equally unnecessary over the top character, followed by an overkill of a dreamscape that reveals the purple-pink monstrosities in their home planet. Why? Why do I need to know all this? Cosmic horror works because the readers or the audience are given just enough to feel a sense of dread, because anything more will ruin the effect or, worse, make the whole thing seem absurd, and this movie crosses the line into the latter.
Color Out of Space is one of the better produced, better acted ones. It’s not bad by any means, but it also commits enough missteps to sabotage itself especially in its later parts. Fans of horror, especially cosmic horror, may want to give it a go, but I’d suggest tampering expectations a bit first to minimize disappointment!