The Color Out of Space (2019) - The Lovecraft Movie We Deserved
Updated: Mar 14, 2020
Ignoring the blatant racism and sexism indicative of the first half of the 20th century in America, I have always loved the stories of H.P. Lovecraft, fraught with dark, cosmic horror. What I have always found amazing about Lovecraft's work is how the reader's mind and imagination fill in the gaps. Rarely is a creature, rite, memory, ancient god or sunken city described in explicit detail, leaving the reader to imagine that which is most frightening to him or her. The Colour Out of Space was no different, though it is generally considered a dark science fiction story more than horror. Interestingly, it is because of this writing style, where the horrors are unknowable lest the viewer lose a grip on his or her sanity, that Lovecraft's works are notoriously difficult to adapt to film and television.
And then I discovered that Richard Stanley (Island of Dr. Moreau, 1996) co-wrote and directed a live action adaptation. I immediately checked Rotten Tomatoes to find an audience score of 82%, followed by IMDB at 6.2. Both are very respectable, especially for a relatively low budget, genre specific movie. The budget was a mere $12 million, about $4 million of which was spent on acquiring the rights.
I rented it two nights later and was absolutely astounded. I'm going to try to keep this as spoiler free as possible...
The movie stars Nicholas Cage as Nathan Gardner and Joely Richardson (yeah, from Event Horizon) as his wife, Theresa, who is recovering from a double mastectomy. They have two sons, a teenager named Benny and a ballpark ten year old named Julian, and their somewhere around eighteen year old daughter named Livianna. The Gardners have moved to Nathan's father's farm to help the entire family recover from the ordeal and to reconnect as a family.
The first act is fairly typical of a slow burn horror movie. We're introduced to the family, one character at a time, and in such a way as to tell us a little about them without bogging the story down. Livianna is a practicing Wiccan, Ben is a very smart kid that's big into NASA... and weed, and Jack-Jack is the typical youngest child. Theresa is not only their mom, but also a workaholic who is intensely worried about losing clients due to her illness. And Nathan is a family man father who is desperately holding onto a relationship with his children, while trying to rekindle his romance with Theresa.
I'm not going to do into the entire plot here, because you've either read the original story and therefore have a good idea how it goes, or you haven't and I want you to watch it!
Suffice it to say that the venerable Mr. Lovecraft's dark science fiction story has been turned into full on horror here. The movie makes tremendous use of typical horror movie tropes, such as cameras advancing on the rear of a character, machines and technology acting inexplicably and sounds in the darkness that neither the character nor the viewer can see. That being said, they're all used the right way, used to ratchet up the tension without giving away anything too early.
All of the performances in this movie are absolutely top notch. The characters begin to change throughout the second act, their natural personality traits and tendencies being driven to the extreme as their environment physically mutates around them. Jack-Jack becomes absolutely creepy, as many kids can sometimes act, with his staring at the well and random laughing at "his friends". Theresa hyper focuses on her work while detaching from the family side of life, leading to the severing of two fingers while preparing dinner and screaming at Nathan about their router going out.
Madeleine Arthur (Lavinia) and Brendan Meyer (Ben) play the concerned older teenagers to a tee. They know something is wrong. They want the family to leave, but they're not leaving anyone behind until the unthinkable happens. Also, I sincerely enjoyed the relationship between the two, as they constantly call each other names with the venom only understood by a sibling. Toward the end of the movie, its done with less venom and more love as they try to hold on to a sense of normalcy, the way things used to be.
Oh and by the way, Tommy Chong makes an appearance as... you guessed it - an old hippy stoner! While this is generally the way we all see Mr. Chong, the fact is he is absolutely delightful in this movie. He plays the role of Ezra the Squatter, who the Nathans basically leave alone because he isn't hurting anyone. As it turns out, Ezra appears to have a far deeper understanding of what is happening than anyone else in the movie, as evidenced by the line regarding his cat "G-spot". "You may see her, but I don't think you'll recognize her."
Finally... Mr. Nicholas Cage. Allow me to say this - I've never been much of a Cage fan. I have found that most of his characters are just... well... Nicholas Cage. This isn't to say that his movies aren't enjoyable. I just generally find him to be somewhat zany and over the top. The thing is that, in this particular movie, it's absolutely BRILLIANT! Nathan's slightly obsessive compulsive personality, his mild alcoholism and strong sense of family created by his father's aloofness (or outright abuse) is blown out of proportion to the Nth degree, and it WORKS! It makes him sort of a pseudo-villain in the entire affair, but also one that any father will sympathize with and understand. Incredible.
The second act continues to build the story slowly, but methodically as everything begins to change. The viewer becomes very aware that something is wrong, but the malevolence behind what is happening does not begin to become clear. Whatever force behind it all may not even be malevolent as much as an uncaring and indifferent because it doesn't even recognize us as life, much as we wouldn't recognize a color as life. How very cosmic horror...
Frankly, the shit really hits the fan as the second act moves into the third, as it does in most good horror movies. A colorful energy strikes Theresa and Jack-Jack as they try to run from the barn, and the result, which is not shown to us for several minutes to powerful effect, is absolutely heartbreaking and terrifying. And the visuals are reinforced by the audio - the tortured wails of Jack chilled me to the core, drawing on my need as a father to help, while actually seeing the situation made me feel utterly powerless.
Simply put, The Color Out of Space is the best horror movie I have seen in years. We live in a day where horror movies tend to rely on blood, gore and shock to evoke fear and tension, and while TCOoS has some amount of that, it is used as a plot element rather than for the fear factor. I consider this a must see, whether you love H.P. Lovecraft or not, and if you've never read him, this is one hell of a place to start!