The Color Out of Space

The world you know can be transformed into something unimaginable; something hellish. When it happens, it is by degrees. There is no tectonic shift, no cataclysm that you notice.  Instead, one small thing shifts. It’s inconsequential and you don’t notice. Then something else  goes awry. It’s no big thing. It cannot possibly matter in the big picture. Just one block at a time things change. And you, like the apocryphal  frog in slowly heating water, are totally unaware of how the world is being transformed; how it is becoming.  That’s what Richard Stanley’s Color Out of Space is about.

Richard Stanley has been out of the game for a few years and this movie is his big comeback.  There are worse projects he could have chosen. H.P. Lovecraft’s The Coulour Out of Space is a great story with a lot of potential for film. It seems especially right that this story should make it to the screen just now.

In the film Nathan and Theresa Gardner (Nicolas Cage and Joely Richardson) are a middle-aged couple who have moved to the idyllic country estate that Nathan grew up on. They have two teenage kids in tow, Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur) and Benny (Brendan Meyer) as well as a young son named Jack (Julian Hillard).  Their property is also inhabited by Ezra (Tommy Chong) , a squatter who lives in a shack in the woods.

The family is basically happy in the way that most upper-middleclass white families are happy. It’s all surface level, but at least there’s no real pain or terror.  No one here is worried about having enough to eat or being murdered in the middle of the night. There’s a shine to it all.

Things start to change after a glowing meteorite crashes into the font lawn.  The explosion is jarring, but then it’s just something interesting that has happened. A space rock in a small crater in your yard is the sort of thing to talk about, but nothing to fear.  That is, it’s nothing to fear until it is.

Things start to get off kilter slowly.   There are new, strange flowers growing in the yard. The water tastes funny. The tomatoes in the garden are huge and ripe way too early, but they all taste bad. There’s a funny smell that only Nathan can detect. The livestock acts strangely. People begin to lose track of time.  The internet gets spotty at best.

None of it seems like a big deal. Each thing that happens, taken on its own is worthy of little more than a scratch of the chin. And yet, these things add up.  The colors start to bleed.  Behavior starts to change.

The film is largely told through the eyes of the two teenagers, but Cage’s Nathan is the center of the tale. Nicloas Cage is in the midst of a renaissance of sorts. He has developed a real knack for finding strange, offbeat films that allow him to craft insane performances.  Films like Mandy  and Mom and Dad have created an expectation from Cage. Here he gives a performance that is actually sort of restrained. He internalizes a lot and dials down the volume for most of the film. Yes, when the time comes he goes big and it’s an explosion, but it is earned.

Joely Richardson (Event Horizon, Maggie) gives the other anchoring performance. It’s a doozy. Richardson plays haunted really well. She has a talent for placing regret just behind the eyes.  In the course of the film her character will undergo some physical changes that harken back to John Carpenter’s The Thing, but even before that happens she slowly makes herself into something alien just via her performance.

Everyone in the cast manages to hit the right notes to ground what should be crazy ass shit. Even Tommy Chong is playing it seriously.  By the time the entire world of the film is completely out of control and the body horror has ramped past eleven on the dial we are onboard because the performances made the world real for us.

The Color Out of Space is a fun time for fans of cosmic horror, fan of Nic Cage, and anyone who just wants to be creeped the hell out. 

A quick note that will only be of interest to people in the vicinity of Joplin Missouri. I saw this movie at The Bookhouse Cinema. If you are near Joplin, be sure to give the Bookhouse Cinema a shot. It's a lovely little arthouse theatre that also serves wonderful food.