Color Out of Space (2019)
Updated: Nov 14, 2020
We’ve had loads of great movies inspired by H.P. Lovecraft: Alien (1979), The Evil Dead (1981), The Thing (1982), In The Mouth of Madness (1994), Annihilation (2018), and, fingers crossed it’s good, Monster Problems (2020). But not since Re-Animator (1985) have we really had a good feature film, specifically based on an H.P. Lovecraft story. There are a few shorts that are pretty good, but Dagon (2001) looks like a straight to TV movie, and Cthulu (2007) is pretty much the same movie.
Now we have renowned filmmaker, Richard Stanley, taking his own stab at adapting The Color Out of Space. You may know Richard Stanley for being fired from The Island of Dr Moreau (1996), one of the worst and most boring adaptations I’ve ever seen, and then proceeding to do absolutely nothing of interest since then.
Now, I’m gonna admit, I’ve read one H.P. Lovecraft novel and I do not remember it at all. Don’t lie, nor have you. Unless you just so happen to be part of the .3% of people who have actually read a Lovecraft novel in which case, congratulations, I don’t really care.
Not remembering the one I read though, I feel like pop culture has exposed me to enough Lovecraft, that I found this film to be following standard Lovecraftian themes. Everything is very much hopeless; you know the characters are doomed from the moment the meteorite hits. Additionally, there’s an oracle hippy, they cast Nicolas Cage and people are dead. But despite this hopelessness, you’re still drawn into what is happening and can’t turn away from the impending doom. That’s incredibly impressive to pull off.
The way these Lovecraftian themes play with the modern setting is very interesting, with modern anachronisms being used in ways that I can’t imagine Lovecraft would’ve planned for (dying in 1937 and all). Socially inclusive characters are completely different with modern technology, and this gives the film new depth and pay off that I really loved. Then there’s this whole background story about political corruption and environmentalism which reminds me of Jaws, but is never really a focus, despite being constantly present.
And then there’s the colour. One of my favourite random facts about the world is that Magenta isn’t real. You look at the light spectrum and point to magenta for me. Do it.
You can’t. It’s not there. What we perceive to be magenta should be somewhere between Violet and Red, but hey, that’s the entire spectrum! Our eyes can’t comprehend it so our brains just make it up, and if that’s not the most Lovecraftian thing, I don’t know what is. Magenta is the exact opposite of green (which is in the middle of the light spectrum) and the use of magenta light and magenta flora is both gorgeous and terrifying, and suitably, Lovecraftian.
Like I said, I’m not huge on the minutia of Lovecraft lore and stories, so I didn’t really know what I was getting into here. It’s honestly pretty standard alien movie affair: meteorite comes down, it spawns aliens, bing bang boop, our heroes fight back.
There aren’t really any story based surprises other than one really horrifying moment, but that’s more visual than anything. As before, it’s pretty obvious from the get go that this is not gonna be a good time for the characters, and although we follow the Gardner family, we sometimes follow this third party hydrologist who happens to be in the area. The way it haphazardly follows the hydrologist and the family without any real focused point of view makes it slightly harder to get involved in the story, but I don’t know if anyone is really here for the story.
There’s a constant argument over visual effects vs. practical effects. I think Lovecraftian horror is a great playground for this argument. The Thing (1982) vs. The Thing (2010) is a pretty strong argument for practical, but then you have things like Annihilation (2018) and Underwater (2020) that kick back for visual effects. You look at Dagon (2001) which has pretty bad versions of both, and I think that we’re only now getting to the time that we can harvest the best of both worlds to get truly Lovecraftian eldritch horror.
Color Out of Space utilises both so well, to give some incredibly uncomfortable imagery that one could finally describe as “indescribable”. The filmmakers cleverly use extreme close ups and reaction shots to hide the majority of the monstrosities and leave it mostly to the imagination of the viewer. It’s just a shame when they do something like that so effectively, only to reveal what is essentially a scene from The Thing (1982). Then moments later, slightly redeem themselves with another horrifying reveal that I’ve felt like I’ve seen before, but never as well as I had here.
The Color itself is something that could never be achieved before visual effects. It uses similar effects as Annihilation, but with a smaller budget and a more oppressing feel. It’s a shame they decided to make this movie so shortly after Annihilation, seeming Annihilation is very clearly inspired by the book and also done with so much more money (and creepier music).
It definitely didn’t use as much magenta though.
I think the biggest question the film raises is “how did it take until 2019 for us to finally have a Nicolas Cage Lovecraft movie?”
I don’t think any actor has ever been more suited to the writer since Jeffrey Combs. And like Jeffrey Combs, I’m truly hopeful that some madman starts making endless Cage-Lovecraft films.
On the note of Nicolas Cage, VERY SERIOUS AND IMPORTANT SPOILER ALERT FOR THIS, there is an awfully satisfying scene where Nicolas Cage's character complains about the fact that no one told him his hair looked bad when they show an interview of him on TV. Don't lie to me movie! Nicolas Cage has never looked at his own hair/hairpieces before this moment, and you know it!
It begins pretty slow and plodding, but that almost feels purposeful. Every scene transition is a crossfade, sometimes what seems like a crossfade between three different shots, and as the happenings on the farm get more and more intense and insane, the filmmaking reflects that. I got very lost at one point, only to realise that the editing was making me experience what the characters were also experiencing. I’m ashamed to say that I probably wouldn’t have noticed if a character didn’t tell me, but once I realised it was on purpose, I was along for the ride.
The imagery is grotesque with the sort of body horror that would make David Cronenberg go… probably “meh” to be honest, but literally anyone else would be disturbed. I forgot to eat breakfast before the movie, but I didn’t want to eat after the movie either. Maybe I merged with another patron, absorbing their nutrients and I didn’t realise because everything was so gosh-darn magenta, or maybe it was just gross and I couldn’t stomach food after because all I could think of was slimy Nicolas Cage kisses.
Pictured: Me, no longer hungry.
It’s probably not a film I’ll see again, but I recommend it for anyone with a strong stomach. Or watch Annihilation (2018) again.