Fantastic Fest: In 'Color Out of Space,' Nicolas Cage and a space rock are match made in hell
Well, I don’t know about y’all, but I think we should give our new space-rock god a chance.
“Color Out of Space” hit Fantastic Fest on Friday night, directed by sci-fi/horror fave Richard Stanley and based on a 1927 H.P. Lovecraft story of the same name. It also stars Nicolas Cage. In other words, it was destined to fuel a few fantastic, giddy nightmares.
The proceedings are updated here, in the story’s most recent film adaptation (though last year’s superb “Annihilation” grafted some of the original Lovecraft tale’s DNA into its own terrifying cinematic chimera). The Gardner family — dad Nathan (Cage), mom Theresa (Joely Richardson, pretty game for anything), occultist daughter Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur, whom you might recognize from teen rom-com “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before”), stoner son Benny (Brendan Meyer) and creepy little Jack (Julian Hilliard) — live on a secluded farm in New England, surrounded by “dark wood where no ax has cut.” This is Lovecraft, my dudes.
They also own alpacas. The alpacas will be important.
The family’s reality is upturned by a big ol’ meteor that crashes in front of their house, but not before bathing them all in an eerie, beautiful pink light that affects the family in various ways. Gorgeous, otherworldly flowers sprout, as they are wont to do in an alien-energy-infuses-a-haunted-forest scenario. Nathan smells something horrible everywhere he goes. Jack is talking to someone in the well. Theresa injures herself while in a fugue state. Horrific, mutated animals begin to disturb the peaceful Massachusetts idyll, hissing through slimy deformities. Just evil meteor things!
In the best Lovecraftian tradition, the “man vs. elder god” conflict builds into a climax of pure, uncut abomination, with a gorgeous magenta tint. It’s rough going for awhile, though. While it’s pointless to hold a Nicolas Cage howler up to conventional criticism, the script in “Color Out of Space” feels like it got the scrutiny of a TV movie of the week. The film’s early attempts to move into the Gardner family’s world are face-twistingly shoddy — interpersonal dynamics and dialogue are straight out of a Scholastic Book Fair catalog, subject matter notwithstanding. Actor Elliot Knight plays a hydrologist who’s supposed to serve as the audience POV. He’s never a character, though, just a walking pH test strip with a high level of adrenaline.
I know why you’re all here, though. And yes, I am happy to report that Cage is indeed in an entirely different movie until he’s not — screaming and slurping bourbon and talking in weird voices and getting splattered with alpaca blood and eating tomatoes like apples and carrying a shotgun around like it’s a bindle. When the indifferent carnage of the cosmos encroaches on his world, the B-movie god himself grabs every actor, camera operator and visual effects artist by the collars and drags them shrieking into the neon-washed night, his eyes popping with commitment. When has Cage not served up space-rock madness?
In order to sell the Lovecraft-Cage-Stanley marriage, “Color Out of Space” needed to double-knot its laces on the visual effects. The dollars don’t get spread out evenly — a few hell-spawned creatures smell more like death than others that smell like Adobe After Effects — but on the whole, the film’s dazzling. The titular color is used to glittering and ghastly ends. There’s one transformation that shouldn’t be spoiled, but it’s perfectly upsetting to watch.
Cut the first third off, and “Color Out of Space” is a solid entry in a middle tier of the midnight movie canon. Those alpacas, though. Just you wait.