Review: ‘Color Out of Space’ Will Trip You Out
Director Richard Stanley is one of those larger-than-life enigmas; someone who had his career been set sixty years ago might be remembered as a cult legend ala Alejandro Jodorowsky. Who knows? Maybe he will. In fact, the two men do share a certain surreal je ne sais quoi. Both boast a checkered Quixotic past as well—Jodorowsky with his failed attempt to make the ultimate Dune feature (which later went to David Lynch) and Stanley with his early departure from The Island of Dr. Moreau (ultimately credited to John Frankenheimer). There are even full-on documentaries about both career crash-and-burns: Jodorowsky’s Dune and Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau.
The idea that Stanley has not made a complete feature film since 1992’s Dust Devil makes the curio factor of Color Out of Space expand tenfold. Add the fact that it’s based on a super-strange H.P. Lovecraft sci-fi short story “The Color Out of Space” (published in Amazing Stories magazine in 1927) plus features the histrionic goodness of Nicolas Cage in the lead, you must know that you’re in for a quite a treat. And let’s not forget the cameo by Tommy Chong as Ezra, a mellow tinfoil hat-wearing conspiracy theorist who lives in the forest…
I’ll bet you’d like the obligatory plot synopsis right about now. Well, here’s the deal: After a meteorite lands in the front yard of their isolated farm, New Age hippie Nathan Gardner (Cage, Mandy) and his family find themselves battling a mutant extraterrestrial organism as it infects their minds and bodies, transforming their quiet rural life into a technicolor tizzy.
The film opens with teenage witch Lavinia Gardner (Madeleine Arthur, Big Eyes) performing a ritual from the Necronomicon book of spells. She lives off the grid in Arkham, Massachusetts with her Dad, ailing mom (Joely Richardson, The Turning), and two younger brothers (Brendan Meyer, Julian Hilliard). Later that day, the aforementioned meteorite makes a bee-line for the Gardner homestead, crash-landing steps away from their front door. The spooky space rock seeps goop into the groundwater, poisoning the well and mutating the brains of any who drink it—which is, of course, everyone: the family, the kooky squatter stoner, and even Nathan’s herd of beloved alpacas. Radioactive psychedelic cosmic horror ensues.
Thanks to an appropriately delirious score by Colin Stetson (Hereditary) and an elaborate otherworldly atmosphere captured on camera by Steve Annis (I Am Mother), and gloriously gooey special effects by the makeup and CGI teams, Color Out of Space provides non-stop eye-candy that’s sure to meet expectations. The screenplay, however, might be a different story. Written by Stanley and Scarlett Amaris, fans of Lovecraft’s dour tone may take exception to the playfulness here. Personally, I enjoyed the humor and scarcity of seriousness—it’s a bonkers setup, so why not just lean into it? Cage screaming about alpacas is almost as much fun as the bee scene in The Wicker Man remake!
See it in theaters when it opens on January 24, 2020.