Directed By Richard Stanley
Starring – Nicolas Cage, Joely Richardson, Madeleine Arthur
The Plot – A story of cosmic terror about The Gardners, a family who moves to a remote farmstead in rural New England to escape the hustle of the 21st century. They are busy adapting to their new life when a meteorite crashes into their front yard. The mysterious aerolite seems to melt into the earth, infecting both the land and the properties of space-time with a strange, otherworldly color. To their horror, the Gardner family discover that this alien force is gradually mutating every life form that it touches…including them.
This film is currently not rated
– Return of Stanley. Made infamous by the disaster production that was 1996’s “The Island of Doctor Moreau”, Richard Stanley has come a long way to get to his first directed film in 24 years, and it’s a path of self-discovery and adversity that has made him a better filmmaker now than he ever was. Richard is undoubtedly the perfect person to helm H.P Lovecraft adaptations, not just for the biography he wrote on the legendary writer, but also for the other two Lovecraft films that he will be adapting following this one. For “Color”, it’s the amount of respect and care that he treats the legendary property with, treating us to an otherworldly experience that is unlike anything audibly or visually playing today. It’s a complete package of science fiction that also supplants an air of therapeutic poignancy for the director himself, using scenes like the one in the film featuring a suffering character to represent Richard’s real life commitment to taking care of his ailing mother before her eventual passing. The best director’s bring with them enough of their own life experiences to disperse in their work, and in a genre called science-fiction, there’s an air of truth that makes so much of the unknown accessible.
– Vibrant expressionalism. Easily the film’s strongest quality is the abundance of color correction that splashes on the screen like the warmest of Van Gogh paintings. This not only helps bring to life this invasion of alien uncertainty, but visually conveys the paranoia and ambiguity that plagues these characters like an airborne toxin. What’s most important is that even though my knowledge of film understands that this element of artistic integrity was added in post-production, the effect never feels anything but natural in the context of the scene. The influence is felt not only in how this stellar cast interacts and absorbs it, but also in how its domination over each frame never takes away from the mayhem unfolding before us, and during an age when phenomenal things are taking place with cinematography, this movie’s captain, Steve Annis, blazes a trail of colorful creation that is only teased in the film’s phenomenal movie poster.
– Faithful. As an adaptation, this movie respects its nearly 100-year-old source material, keeping the pivotal pieces in characters and setting, all the while making a series of necessary tweaks that help the narrative succeed in modern day. This proves that Lovecraft was decades ahead of his time as a writer, but beyond that helps to alleviate the pre-conceived fear that fans of the writer had going into the movie. Stanley proves that this story adapts with each passing generation, and even through the air of technological advances that usually cure many conflicts within the film, the isolation of its setting dismisses any possibility for reprieve that we may idealize. For my money, it’s around 70% similar to its literary companion, all the while fleshing out a fresh narrative that allows its uncertainty to succeed on its own original merits.
– Characterization. As a storyteller, Stanley and co-writer Scarlett Amaris take their time introducing us and absorbing as much about the Gardner’s that helps fill in the blank of what we weren’t previously privy to. This helps each of them feel like a living, breathing human being in this established world, all the while illustrating their interior spectrum towards revealing each of their personalities and anxieties that stay prominently persistent in our minds through each of their actions and reactions. For instance, Cage’s character seems to have an underlying fear about developing into his mentally abusive father. This element is mentioned a couple of times throughout, and develops uniquely satisfying in the progression of the conflict. I’ve always said that caring more about the people helps an audience better invest in the world crumbling down around them, and through spending an ample amount of the first act with this family, it only helps attain that level of empathy for each of them when these terrible things start happening to them.
– Cosmic horror. Sadly, this subgenre rarely exists anymore, but “Color Out of Space” is a satisfying return to form, reminding us what it can do with ambiguity that other subgenres of horror can’t even attempt. For starters, it’s the mysteriousness of this alien arrival that the film doesn’t attempt to elaborate on or answer with exposition that makes it so compelling. It’s that fear of the unknown that balances the vulnerability and unpredictability accordingly, and doesn’t have to relegate itself to settling for aimless jump scares or buckets of blood that, unfortunately, have come to define the genre in current day. What’s in the film can’t really be described as genuine scares, but rather an unnerving peeling of atmosphere and elements beyond our explanation that stir until their scintillating climax.
– Easter eggs. Whether you’re a fan of Lovecraft or Richard Stanley, there is plenty contained inside of the contents of this movie that will force you to do a double take. These are moments where your undying dedication to the movie really pay-off, and possibly offer you more of a reason to re-watch it, to spot them all. These are the ones I’ve found so far; Benny’s wall has the words “No flesh shall be spared”, an obvious reference to Stanley’s first film “Hardware” from 1990. The name Lavinia isn’t one of the names of the kids in the book, but it’s used here as a reference to Lovecraft’s story “The Dunwich Horror”. The news channel logo in the film is similar to Lovecraft’s original Elder sign. The narrator’s name, Ward Phillips, is a play on H.P’s full name, being hoWARD PHILLIPS. Lavinia has the Necronomican book, the very same book that Lovecraft invented. Finally, Wade wearing a Miskatonic University t-shirt, and this refers to the fictional school that is mentioned frequently throughout many Lovecraft novels. Do we need any further proof of Lovecraft’s influence on Stanley?
– UNCAGED. Part of my concern heading into this film was the casting of Nicolas Cage, whose boisterous personality can often overshadow the importance of the property he invades. Thankfully, Stanley’s direction subdues him to the point when it matters the most to unleash him, and unleash him he certainly does. Cage’s transformation is one that slowly peels back like an onion, which in turn better conveys the magnitude of the devastation taking place. Unlike other films, his mayhem here not only feels earned, but also calculated in a way that it feels naturally conveying of his emotional rollercoaster. At this point in his career, Cage could easily sleep through the hundreds of paycheck obligation movies that he has accepted due to tax problems with the government, but the constant professionalism by one of the generation’s best only elevates the film, and makes it a must-watch for Cage enthusiasts everywhere.
– Consistency mistake. One scene in the film takes place during a violent rainstorm at Ezra’s (Tommy Chong) house. The film intermediately cuts to Ward (Elliot Knight) sitting outside of his tent in the woods, where not only is it not raining simultaneously, but there are no puddles or any kind of rain indication anywhere to be seen in frame. I love these kind of errors because it takes something so easy as scene continuity, and skewers it in a way that even the lightest of lightweight moviegoers will notice. It proves that even in a film with impressive production like this one had, even an occasional mouse of mischief will seep in through the cracks to create chaos.
– Special effects. This one really hurts because I loved the hell out of the impressive practical effects, which reminded me of a hybrid between “The Thing” and the many creature features of the tinseltown age of cinema. Unfortunately, Stanley’s delve into computer generation comes with a hefty price tag that evens out the beneficial nature of the former. On a design concept, the creatures in the film are beautifully layered and full of diverse color that forces you to pay attention towards spotting each of them. But when these creatures start to move, then you can easily spot the phoniness or lack of influence to their complexion in the scene. Thankfully, it’s only three times throughout the film when this happens, but the one by the roadside I can confidently say will go down as one of the very worst effects of the 2020 movie year, thus leaving it with a desire to cater to modern technology when the hands of man were overly exceeding in what was required.
– Lack of intelligence. Whether intentional or not, the film has several instances where logic leaps off of the screen, and sends itself running towards the exit. First off, the dialogue in a few of these scenes is mind-numbingly atrocious. One such scene involves Cage discussing the color of the object he saw. He describes it to the newscaster as being “Pink, or I don’t know. I’ve never seen what color it was”. This completely contradicts his previous statement, and left me wondering why the line wasn’t just written as “I can’t explain it, I’ve never seen what color it was”. Then there’s the famous horror trope of characters making scatterbrained decisions, like crawling into a well to save an animal despite seeing said animal submerged in this mystery goo, characters using water despite the repeated warnings not to, and an attempt to fight the goo using daylight, which never goes further than table conversation. These are all sloppy elements of the script that don’t completely soil the integrity of the tone, but do enough to compromise it when the film requires the audience to feel the sting of its tragedy, offering far too many comedic moments to keep the fire burning.
My Grade: 7/10 or B-