Production Company: Ace Pictures and XYZ Films
Streaming Service: N/A (In Theaters)
Release Date: January 24th, 2020
Color Out of Space
dir. Richard Stanley
Color Out of Space is a mind-bending cosmic horror film, that blends gripping character drama alongside horrifying imagery in what amounts to one of the most uniquely terrifying films in recent memory. What is slated to be the first film in a trilogy based off of the writings of H.P. Lovecraft, Richard Stanley tells the story of Nathan Gardner (Nicolas Cage) and his family as their lives are radically altered after a mysterious meteorite crashes onto their land.
Without delving into spoilers, the general plot of Color Out of Space is as follows. A family has recently moved into their secluded alpaca farm in the dense forest of rural Massachusetts. Cage shares the screen with his wife Theresa (Joely Ricahrdson), eldest son Benny (Brendan Meyer), daughter Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur), and youngest son Jack (Julian Hilliard). The Gardner’s marriage has been in rough patch following Theresa’s mastectomy. Theresa’s confidence is at an all-time low following the procedure, and she has built up emotional barriers between her and her family. Similarly, Benny and Lavinia feel disconnected from their overbearing parents; Benny being a reclusive stoner who prefers to spend time with Ezra (Tommy Chong) a shaman like squatter that lives on the Gardner’s land, and Lavinia the Gardner’s teenage daughter that is into heavy metal music and witchcraft. One night, an ominous meteorite crashes into their farm and begins to pollute their land with cosmic radiation. The radiation emanating from the meteorite not only pollutes the soil and water but begins to infect the family with its hellish energy. What ensues is a chaotic, existential Lovecraftian horror film that succeeds on almost all facets.
Upon first learning about this film, I wasn’t entirely interested. The marketing for this film suggested that it would be similar to Mandy (2018) another Nic Cage led horror film with a synth laced soundtrack and neon-lit visuals. However, where Mandy was a film that focused on style over substance, Color Out of Space delivers on both.
Steve Annis did an excellent job with the cinematography for this film. He does this by setting an eerie mood with his long, pragmatic shots of the family coupled with his hauntingly mesmerizing use of light. His austere style created a pit in my stomach, as if some primal instinct within me was warning me about an impending danger that I couldn’t see. This is where the majority of horror found in the first half of the movie is derived from. That anxious feeling where we, as the audience, know something isn’t right, but are unable to tell the family of their inevitable destruction. The score by Colin Stetson is otherworldly and compliments the overall tone of the film well. Stetson, who has previously composed music for Hereditary (2018) and Red Dead Redemption II (2018), creates an incredibly sinister, and sonically dense soundtrack. His score’s use of synthesizers and bass creates an auditory veil over the audience, and at times seems to embody the amorphous, invisible presence seeping out of the meteorite.
Stanley is able to introduce all of the major characters within the first five minutes of the film without any dull expository dialogue. This allows the audience to quickly develop an emotional connection with these characters as we slowly see their descent into madness. Nic Cage delivers a well balanced performance, as Stanley gives him the freedom to be “Nic Cage” but also is able to rein him in for the dramatic scenes. The result is an unhinged, manic performance, rife with Cage-isms and utter insanity. The rest of the cast give solid performances, with the standouts being Tommy Chong and Julian Hilliard. Hilliard seems to have carved out his place in Hollywood by being typecast as the cute kid in a horror movie whose clairvoyant powers allow him to see the invisible threat. His doe-eyes and thick glasses make his performance equal parts cute and terrifying.
Although I thoroughly enjoyed this movie, it isn’t without fault. My first minor gripe was that some of the effects looked cheap. A few of the visual effects looked dated, almost as if they had been cut out of an early X-Box 360 game. They lacked any real physical presence within the world of the narrative. Additionally, for every fantastic, and creative practical effect, I found the others to be campy. For example, a scene towards the end of the film has Nic Cage going absolutely berserk, shooting the heads off of his mutated alpacas. It was reminiscent of the scene in The Thing (1982) where the sled dogs are being absorbed by the alien. However, Cages performance, coupled with the shotty visual effects, and a sudden shift in tone led to a scene more akin to a campy B-movie, rather than a stylish existential horror film. Had this film been given a slightly larger budget, I think it could’ve ironed out many of my grievances. The only other complaint I have regarding the movie would be its lack of outside perspective. At the beginning of the film, we are introduced to a hydrologist who is testing the water on the Gardner’s farm to see if there is anything wrong with it. Once he leaves, we don’t see him again for almost the rest of the movie until he is abruptly cut to fifteen minutes before the film ends. If more time was spent on him, I think the film as a whole would benefit. He serves as a surrogate for the audience, sharing our anxiety about what is going on at the farm. By giving this character more screen time, it would make his revelation that much more impactful, and would add to the emotional weight of the film’s final act.
With all that being said, Richard Stanley directed an incredible horror film that truly got underneath my skin. The haunting visuals, sense of isolation and helplessness, and otherworldly terror provided me with a much-needed reprieve from the jump-scare riddled, sloppily written horror films that are being pumped out by the big Hollywood studios. Color Out of Space has shades of The Thing, and The Shining (1980) but enough fresh ideas and originality to not be overshadowed by its influences. This film left me with a hollow, morbid, horrified feeling comparable to that of other modern horror classics like Hereditary, Suspiria (2018), and Midsommar (2019).
Reviewer Name: Michael Jepson