Color Out of Space is an absurd, bizarre, and yet immaculate piece of cinema. Director Richard Stanley is known for his adaptations and even his original pieces, although mostly for being the screenwriter of the 1996 horror film, The Island of Dr. Moreau. Personally, I haven’t seen any of the films that happen to have Stanley’s name attached, and while I wouldn’t go back to watch them based off of Color Out of Space, I can firmly say that I will be interested in the future of this fascinating filmmaker.
It’s a false claim, because I know that filmmaker Richard Stanley has been in the industry for over four decades, but his direction here simulates what a film would be like from a passionate individual making their debut. Never having seen the director’s other film, I can’t verify if this film acts or appeals to anyone different than any other film he’s completed, either in directing or writing. Basically what I’m trying to say is that similar to how I felt seeing Hereditary for the first time, I knew that newcomer Ari Aster had created a masterful piece of art and looked to the future for more - in which the filmmaker did not disappoint. It’s obvious Stanley is extraordinarily passionate about the writings of H.P. Lovecraft, and for fans of the writers work, there is no doubt in my mind that this is a film to see. For others, Stanley’s direction here will split hairs with this peculiar and anxiety-ridden trip, just like Darren Aronofsky’s surreal Mother!.
The story builds. Know that. The movie begins with a demonic ritual attempting to revoke the illness from our main character, Lavinia’s (Madeleine Arthur), mother. As she is finishing her words, an environmental “out of towner,” Ward (Elliot Knight), comes upon her, interrupting and quickly forming a crush on the young woman. As they part, she treads home to her worrisome father Nathan (Nicolas Cage), her irritated mother Theresa (Joely Richardson), her slouchy brother Benny (Brendan Meyer), and her young brother Jack (Julian Hilliard) for a typical night in… until “it” hits. Based on the Lovecraft short story, the film expects the audience to assimilate that it may have been written by a “mad man” behind the typewriter, and even with that in mind going in, it’s a wild ride to the finish. The first hour is almost all built up to the infection “it” brings, and during that horror, Stanley crafts an intense atmosphere for us to reside in up to our first true “Cage moment,” which fans of actor Nicolas Cage know all too well. When that moment happens, expect the unexpected and be ready for the film to go completely off the rails. It may not all make sense, or even almost any of it, but its fever dream approach helps propel the film to an absolute one time watch that may never be seen again.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
The acting is unexpectedly fantastic, although the only thing that I can firmly warn against is if you happen to not be a Nicolas Cage fan, then this film is not for you. While he doesn’t go Mandy-level insane in Color Out of Space, he does still have his moments, and they personally make the movie. Madeleine Arthur is a newer actor on the scene, only being in a few other projects prior to this, and hopefully this will crack the door a little wider for her because there’s something hidden in her performance that indicates that she could be a promising performer in the future. Joely Richardson, Julian Hilliard, Brendan Meyer, and Tommy Chong are reduced to extended cameos, leaving little impression with their performances present here beyond the visual effects around them. Cage and Arthur ultimately share more of a screen presence over the other actors, as the only other rival is Elliot Knight’s expert character, Ward. Ward helps move the story along. He’s the exposition highway to the end, and it also helps that his limited characterization leaves him as a charming, love-drunk that ultimately just wants to help.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
Composer Colin Stetson understands how to create tension through his score. Not since Midsommar have I felt this type of anxiety building up so finely until you can barely handle it anymore, and before that Hereditary, a score that Stetson composed as well. The sound is gruesome, and leave off the disturbing visuals and you have some gross noises coming from a darkened screen. I never knew, nor wanted to know what the sound of flesh being torn off sounded like, but unfortunately, in a way, I now know thanks to Color Out of Space. Sound mixing is top class here and deserves awards attention for the refined talent this team has in creating such a visceral nightmare through only the sound.
The visuals in Color Out of Space are vibrant, hypnotic, and while not entirely “perfect” (such as in some of the animal transformations), they have their own unique style that converts this distinct story that builds suddenly and is ever changing to a more memorable experience. Throughout a majority of the film (after “it” lands), the film has a distinctive purple overlay, and this adds an extra visual element that creates a style all its own. Similar to Nicolas Winding Refn’s Only God Forgives, only less pretentious and more transformative throughout. The cinematography is immaculate. Cinematographer/director of photography, Steve Annis, deserves great praise for his work here, which is something that shined vividly in another popular outing of his Netflix original film, I Am Mother.
Color Out of Space, as mentioned earlier, is based on an H.P. Lovecraft short story, who is an author that’s had his work adapted numerous times over the years, but the adaptation that’s most recognized among pop culture is Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator (1985). Similar to that horror classic, this film dives head-first into the bizarre nature of Lovecraft’s vision, just minus some of the iconic comedic cues in comparison. The film is disturbing, beautiful, and horrifying in its own way, and entirely Lovecraft.