Nerds and Beyond Fest Review: ‘Color Out of Space’ is Lovecraftian Fun for the Whole Family
Color Out of Space is the new film from the infamous cult writer/director, Richard Stanley (Hardware, The Island of Dr Moreau). It’s based off of the HP Lovecraft short story of the same name and is one trippy, acid mind f*ck of a film. Its got alien parasites. Its got wild colors. Its got cosmic horrors from outer space. And its got Nicolas Cage doing what he does best – giving a truly buck wild performance at the weirdest possible moments. So strap yourselves in and prepare for a mind melt!
The story centers around a family who left the big city for a quieter life on an isolated alpaca (that’s right, alpaca) farm in the forest near the fictional town of Arkham, Massachusetts. The mother, Theresa (played by iconic British actress Joely Richardson) is still trying to maintain her high stakes and incredibly stressful job after her recent fight with breast cancer, by working remotely from the farm. Her husband Nathan (Nicolas Cage) tends to the alpacas. They have three children: Benny (Brendan Meyer), Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur), and Jack (Julian Hillard). Benny is a stoner, Lavinia is a baby goth into witchcraft and the occult (the film opens with her attempting to perform a protection spell for her mom), and Jack is the youngest – he spends most of his time with the family dog. The Gardners left their big city life as an attempt to give Theresa some rest and quiet while she recovers, but unfortunately for them, they have to contend with an unscrupulous mayor (Q’orianka Kilcher) who wants to flood the basin that their land resides in to create a new water reserve, and also a meteor from outer space that crashes into their front yard.
And that’s when things get weird. Well, weirder. There are weird purple and pink color flashes. Nathan smells something awful that no one else seems to notice. And strange red flowers start to sprout up all over the farm. Jack starts talking to voices that only he can hear and the pictures he draws of his new “friends” are increasingly disturbing. Attempts at contacting the outside world, or even each other, via cell phone, are almost impossible. Basically, things start going nuts because the meteor contained an alien parasite that begins to infiltrate the land, the electronics, and also the people and animals it comes into contact with. But it affects each host in a different way. Nathan develops a weird rash, begins drinking heavily, and literally turns into his abusive father. Their tenant Ezra, an eccentric old hippie played by Tommy Chong, is convinced that there are people under the earth trying to communicate with him. Pretty much the only person not affected is Ward, the hydrologist (Elliot Knight) sent in by the mayor because he refuses to drink the contaminated water.
The well near the crash site begins shooting out beams of light and anything the light touches gets warped or mutated in some way. No one is safe from it. Especially the poor alpacas. I won’t spoil what happens, but let’s just say that there are some great (and gross) practical effects. People get fused into weird, Cronenbergian spider monsters. And Nathan goes full Jack Torrance a la The Shining. Even poor Lavinia goes nuts and tries to protect herself by carving occult symbols into her face and body with a kitchen knife. It’s essentially Annihilation meets The Shining meets The Thing. So a real treat for the whole family!
Performance wise, the kids are all great. Madeleine Arthur and Brendan Meyer have great chemistry as the oldest siblings, and their antagonistic yet loving rapport is fun to watch. Tommy Chong is hilarious and doing what he does best as the old stoner Ezra. Casting Kilcher as the cutthroat mayor was an interesting choice, because indigenous actors don’t usually get to play brutal capitalists, but she relishes her cutting one liners. Joely Richardson is always fabulous. But let’s talk about the reason most people are going to want to watch this film – Nic Cage. In news that will no longer surprise anyone, he gives a bing bong bonkers performance.
He has moments that are subdued, but basically right out of the gate he is dialed all the way up to eleven. There are moments where this works brilliantly (like a truly hilarious scene where he milks an alpaca while trying to intimidate his daughter’s date) but there are several times where I wondered if it wouldn’t have been more shocking or impactful to have him play it straight. If you make strange choices all the time, doesn’t that negate their strangeness? This was the question plaguing me as the film unfolded and the strangeness of the entire world began to escalate. Earlier in the story, Nathan describes his abusive drunk of a father. When the alien parasite really starts to take over, he descends into drink and essentially becomes his dad. Cage drew upon his own strained relationship with his father (August Coppola) as inspiration – but the way in which this comes out is in his voice. When Nathan is, for lack of a better word, possessed by his dad, Cage does a vocal impression of his own father. But it is so over the top and cartoonish that it becomes a comedic moment instead of a dramatic one. He plays the abusive father… for laughs.
During the Q&A after the screening of the film at Beyond Fest, Stanley spoke about his conversations with Cage, how they both have complicated or negative feelings about their abusive fathers, and their intentions behind these scenes. He wanted to show the ways that way we literally become our parents and can perpetuate cycles of abuse. But also how everything they did, down to the voice, was very intentional. Which is why it’s so interesting that he chose to make those moments into comedic beats. Ultimately, I’m not sure if it was the right choice to make, because it the voice is so nasally and, well, funny that it pulled me out of the current of the scene. Which is an impressive feat considering that that scene might have neon lights, aliens, and a human spider hybrid monster, AND Nic Cage being Nic Cage all happening at once.
Overall, I would say that if you are looking for some psychedelic, Lovecraftian fun this Halloween then Colors Out of Space is the flick for you. Once the third act hits, there is a lot of blood, monsters, and Nic Cage screams. There are even a few classic jump scares if that’s your thing. (Confession: I will jump at even the most obvious, silly jump scare. It is quite embarrassing.) There are a few loose ends that don’t quite get tied up, and I don’t know if it quite sticks the landing but it is a fun, trippy little movie that definitely taps into the cosmic horror that makes Lovecraft’s stories so creepy all these decades later. Plus, if Nic Cage bouncing off the walls is your kink at this time (and it still is one of mine), then this movie is a must see.
Color Out of Space is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video. Stay tuned for more reviews coming out of Beyond Fest!