After his wife’s (Joely Richardson) mastectomy, Nathan Gardner (Nicolas Cage) moves his family out to his father’s old farm to escape 21st century life – despite the fact wife Theresa continues to work remotely as a frazzled stockbroker. Their daughter Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur) has taken to the occult, practising Wiccan rituals and dressing in a tacky witch costume, flaunting an in-your-face angsty mid-2000’s teen attitude. Their son Benny (Brendan Meyer) is a burn-out who smokes weed with the vagrant squatter, Ezra (Tommy Chong) who lives on the Gardners’ property. The Gardners’ youngest son, Jack (Julian Hilliard), is withdrawn and spends his time with the family dog. Not exactly the spooky opening I’d expected of an adaption of a Lovecraft story. The real story begins when Ward (Elliot Knight) a hydrologist, arrives on the Gardner property to complete survey work for a new reservoir to be built on the land. Soon after, a meteorite crash-lands in the front yard of the Gardner house and madness quickly ensues.
Directed by Richard Stanley, who co-wrote alongside Scarlett Amaris, Color Out of Space is based on the H. P. Lovecraft science fiction horror story The Colour Out of Space written in 1927. The original story follows an unnamed narrator, a surveyor (replaced by Ward in the film), who arrives at the ‘blasted heath’ west of Arkham. From an elderly neighbour, the narrator hears the story of the Nahum Gardner farm, where a mysterious meteorite landed in the 1880s. If you haven’t read the original story, I highly recommend you do. Sadly, I can’t have the same recommendation for the filmic adaption.
The original story is subtle, describing a metaphor of unfathomable horror from the depths of space, that creeps and burns and sucks the life from everything. It is not the kitschy, gory horror that smacks you in the face and says ‘Hey, look at this mass of melted goats that looks like a leftover prop from The Thing’. The slow poisoning of soil, body, and mind is not as prolonged as to make it a really insidious threat in the film. Disappointingly, much of Lovecraft’s fantastic and perturbing imagery goes to waste, unused. Color Out of Space tries to be every Lovecraft story ever condensed into two hours, when it only needed to be one – the story of an indescribably alien colour that arrives on a meteorite and slowly disintegrates everything around it while growing stronger and more fearsome. But let’s throw in some tentacles, because it’s Lovecraft, right?
It it’s most faithful moments, the film portrays some of the meteorite’s effects well, with good CGI and noteworthy makeup and props. There are some momentously beautiful moments, as the oily film of colour pierces the air and strangely captivating mutated plants grow across the Gardner farm. But none of it feels cohesive, as if it presents an all-powerful, ominous threat. Rather, it is a film of mismatched happenings that seem to want to hit every horror trope at once.
It feels like the screenwriters of Goosebumps and Color Out of Space bumped each other in the hallway, dropping their scripts and walking away with accidental pages of the other’s work. Color Out of Space can’t seem to decide on a tone – discordant twangs of comedy scrape against prime time family drama, dotted throughout a body horror blood fest. The writing is heavy with cliché, and the Gardner family have a penchant for stating the obvious and also being totally oblivious and obtuse. Cage is Cage. The film is a free two hours for Cage to devolve into farcical insanity, and it’s the best part of the film.
Ironically, there is an indescribable quality about this movie: something halfway between glaringly tasteless and vexingly obvious, some uncomfortable spectrum of attempted B-grade horror, mixed with 80’s aesthetics yet stuck in 2007. There are moments, flashes of meaning, like the focused close up on the pentagram tattoo on Lavinia’s foot, that you think must have meant something in an early draft of the screenplay, but which has been forgotten in the rest of the film while the empty symbolism and loose ends are left to blow in the breeze. The lines that stick are the ones quoted straight from the original story. Where Lovecraft’s vision has been brought to life, the film is spectacular. Where it diverges, chaos and bland comedy ensue. And it’s a real shame.
Lovecraft fans waiting for a fantastic and faithful adaption of his stories will have to wait a little longer. However, if you aren’t a fan, the film is entertaining enough to sustain interest for the most part.
I rate this film 5/10. The Color Out of Space came out in Australian cinemas on Feb 6th.