Color Out of Space review Nicolas Cage Joely Richardson

Year: 2019
Director(s): Richard Stanley
Writer(s): Scarlett Amaris, H.P. Lovecraft, Richard Stanley
Region of Origin: USA
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Rating: n/a
Color, 111 mins

Synopsis: A family’s home is struck by a meteorite and the fallout is catastrophic. (Source)

Director Richard Stanley unceremoniously galvanized the fringes of sci-fi with Hardware. It was a low budget effort that oozed with innovation and style despite its limitations. After a few false starts and a 27-year gap between features, Stanley is finally back with Color Out of Shape. If anything, his return proves that he’s a director with singular talents. His worlds vividly off the screen. Taking on the work of H.P. Lovecraft, Stanley’s latest weaponizes small town isolation and familial angst, building to one of the most psychedelic displays of cosmic horror ever put on film. We’ve got grotesque body horror, otherworldly creatures, alpacas, Nic Cage going crazy over alpacas, and of course, a cascading sense of madness that feels contagious and addicting. Stanley is back everyone, and his latest is should be seen on the biggest, loudest screen possible. 

In the deep woods of Arkham, Massachusetts, The Gardeners live a simple, but complete life. The family’s patriarch, Nathan (Nicolas Cage), has recently inherited his father’s home, and is content with settling down. His wife, Theresa (Joely Richardson), is recovering from an illness and doing her best to work a freelance job via endless phone calls. Of their children, Lavinia (Madeline Arthur) is a budding witch, Benny (Brendan Meyer) is typical teenage boy, and their youngest, Jack (Julian Hilliard), is cute as a button. After a mysterious meteor crashes into their front yard, they become witness to extraordinary side effects. The land around them begins to transform, and they can’t seem to explain sudden physical changes or account for stretches of missing time. Helping them just as things begin to really get weird, is a water surveyor named Ward Phillips (Elliot Knight). Together, the Gardeners and Ward attempt to make sense of everything as their surroundings become increasingly unrecognizable. 

More than most films, Stanley’s vision best experienced and not explained. Yes, there is a narrative to latch on to, centering on an unsaid familial bond that is cracking under strain. But the film’s otherworldly horror and how it ratchets up is what takes centerstage. In the best way, Stanley stays away from over explaining or laying out a clear mythology. Instead, he creates a tone of slow dread and eccentric humor, evoking a feeling of losing one’s mind in the best way. Whereas Annihilation took a very philosophical approach to its alien threats, Stanley executes a tightrope of visual spectacle and fear. If I’m being honest, what really takes everything next level is a third act that goes full force. It’s here where Stanley takes the training wheels off, rendering a psychedelic landslide that blends emotion with blurred visuals, horrifying sound design and a truly epic climax. 

Though the immediate draw will be Nic Cage (for a certain audience), he’s just one part of the puzzle. Cage delivers exactly what you expect. For the majority of the film, it’s fun to see him put on his best imitation of domesticity. He carries a sincerity that slowly gives way to uncontrollable madness, and when things finally go awry, he goes all the way. In the scheme of things, Joely Richardson‘s Theresa feels a bit underused but still gets a lot of room to shine. Perhaps the meatiest role goes to Madeline Arthur’s Lavinia. She starts off the film and is in many ways its heart. As her siblings, Brendan Meyer’s Benny and Julian Hilliard’s Jack complete the loving but strained family dynamic. Last but not least, Elliot Knight’s Ward is a great addition to a long line of Lovecraft characters. As a cheeky reference to Lovecraft’s first person narrators, you think you’d know what to expect, but there’s still a nice subversion here that feels right. 

How the film ends and where it ends up also feels like a true encapsulation of Lovecraft’s work. There’s a sense of hopelessness that feels in line with Carpenter’s apocalypse films (themselves tributes to Lovecraft), and the artistry involved is a stunning blend of both digital and tactile practical effects. In that sense, Color Out of Space feels like a gift. It’s tailor made for horror fans who want their films as strange as possible. Given cosmic horror’s underserved place in the genre, it’s satisfying to see Stanley play in this sandbox. This is the work of a director with a singular vision, and finally the means to see it through.