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Richard Stanley's Color Out of Space Takes H.P. Lovecraft Mythos to Next Level in Film

Image by Rolando Marin from Pixabay

Lovers of weird fiction, rejoice! It's time for a new H.P. Lovecraft film adaptation. Although he's not the first to make a film based on the stories of Lovecraft, South African film director Richard Stanley reaches a new milestone in the genre with his latest film, Color Out of Space. Looking at the past film adaptations of Lovecraft, many of them are "loosely based" on the stories or under 90 minutes long. The last adaptation, The Whisperer in Darkness (2011), used vintage filmmaking techniques to give it a 1930s look. Stanley attempts to take the Lovecraft mythos to new heights by giving this film a higher quality production value one can expect from contemporary horror, while still packaging it in a way that will appeal to the late-night cinema scene. The combination works for a niche audience, rather than a general public audience. But boy will those niche audiences be happy that Color exists. Stanley also announced Color is the first of a trilogy of Lovecraft-inspired movies. The next project will be The Dunwich Horror.

The Gardner family has recently moved to the fictional locale of Arkham, Massachusetts, to claim the estate left to Nathan (Nic Cage), the father of this family of five. While he attempts to raise alpacas and grow crops, the wife, Theresa (Joely Richardson), is healing from cancer treatments, while the three kids are all dealing with this move in different ways. The daughter Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur) is casting spells and gleaning insights from books like the Necronomicon (a fictional book part of the Lovecraftian universe) and The Book of the Law to protect herself and her mother, Benny, the other teen in the house is mostly getting high, and little Jack (Julian Hilliard) is a typical small boy with an active imagination without any playmates. These opening sequences show us the default normal of the family. There's a sense that Nathan wants to create a peaceful family life, but we as an audience notice an eery ambience that prepares us for what comes next.

A young handsome toxicologist shows up on the scene to take water samples, and a squatter named Ezra, whom the Gardners allow to live on their property, round out the cast of characters with notable roles.

Then late at night, what looks like a meteor lands from the sky onto the ground and things begin to get weird. There's something in the water, and the family begins to exhibit signs of stress and various types of sickness. Like the Torrance family in The Shining (1980), a family trying to get away from it all instead breeds into an long descent into body horror, power struggles, and madness. The isolation which Nathan craves becomes the reason none of them can escape.

Highlights of the movie are the color scheme and the overall look of the film. The sky sizzles with hot pink, purple and blue shades, casting a menacing filter over the proceedings. The soundtrack provided by Colin Stetson (Hereditary) pulses with the synth-heavy music once expects from a weird, trippy horror film of this caliber. The sound editing is also worth mentioning as much of the horror came from what I heard, as well as saw. The noises coming out of people and animals were toe-curling.

Sadly, the only thing I didn't love about this film is the performance of Nic Cage, which theoretically could have been a highlight. I am a fan of his crazy Cage vibe. His performance in Cosmatos' Mandy (2018) impressed me. However, in Mandy, there was an emotional buildup to his outbursts that made them feel earned and plausible. While in Color, it almost seems as if Cage was doing a poor impression of himself. A scene with tomatoes is fun and a few lines got me smiling, but for the most part, this did not end up being one of the memorable Cage performances.

Speaking of Cage, much of the talk around this movie has been to market it towards Mandy fans, as if this is Mandy Part 2. Granted, there is much connecting Color with Mandy. Here's the list:

  • They both star Nic Cage.
  • Many of the producers worked on both films.
  • Brett W. Bachman did the editing on both films.
  • Both stories can be broken into halves: a more pastoral pleasant peaceful vibe transforms into terror and nightmares, with moments of over-the-top gore and crazy Cage freakouts.
  • The synth scores add to the creepy ambience of both.
  • Both contain cosmic horror, but while this true of Color throughout, in Mandy the evil that descends is both man-made and cosmic. In any case, I know now what Lovecraftian horror looks like.

I would still recommend Color to people who liked Mandy, but they are different enough that if you expect a repeat of Mandy, you may be disappointed. All in all, I enjoyed this trek into Arkham and think it's definitely worth checking out for fans of body horror, Lovecraft horror, Northeast settings, small town horror, and troubled family tropes. I give this one 4 out of 5 stars.

P.S. Read my review of Mandy.