Premise: After a meteorite lands in the front yard of their farmstead, Nathan Gardner (Nicolas Cage) 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 nightmare.
H.P. Lovecraft’s 1927 short story The Colour Out of Space has enjoyed a few adaptations to film over the years and has also served to inspire the likes of Jeff VanderMeer’s novel (and Alex Garland’s film) Annihilation and Stephen King’s The Tommyknockers. Richard Stanley’s Color Out of Space, is the latest cosmic and body horror adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s short story. It’s the classic tale of the Gardner family, a meteorite that lands on their property, and the havoc it unleashes. Through wonderfully vibrant visual effects and strong body horror elements, Color Out of Space leaves the viewer with a lot of dread to digest.
Central among the story is the aforementioned Gardner family, led by patriarch Nathan (Nicolas Cage). Nathan lives in a small farmhouse with his wife Theresa (Joely Richardson) and their three children. The film establishes the family’s dynamic fairly well in its opening scenes. However, the children characters could have used some more development. What we get gives each of the children a single character trait and runs with it. While it is unfortunate, the argument could certainly be made that it’s necessary for an ensemble piece. Unfortunately, it still leaves a bit to be desired.
One of the great joys for movie fans today is the eclectic and bizarrely wonderful range of Nicolas Cage’s acting in this stage of his career. Color Out of Space is not so different from the fare with which he has become most associated in recent years. What sets this film apart from others in Cage’s filmography, however, is the way it encourages Cage’s mostly strange and usually out of place energy in specific moments. As the effects of the meteorite start to manifest themselves among the Gardner family, Cage adjusts his performance accordingly. He employs bizarre accents (I’m pretty sure he threw a Trump impression in there at one point) to communicate that Nathan is not himself in certain scenes. This should come across as completely silly and tone killing. However, there’s an effortless and confident quality to the way Cage switches his voice up that makes it easy to buy into what’s happening.
The film has a dazzling array of colorful imagery that counteracts the slightly drab and desolate farmland setting. Throughout the movie there are spectacular displays of light that puts this ordinary household into the aesthetic of other dimensions and far off worlds. The eye-popping displays in Color Out of Space fill the viewer with beautiful dread without overindulging the senses. At times, the visual effects look intentionally rendered in a way to evoke memories of early 2000s sci-fi cable TV movie aesthetics. Surprisingly, this does not detract from the movie. Amidst all the chaos, it simply feels like a visual throwback to a (mostly) bygone era.
The most spectacular and surprising moment of the movie will not be spoiled in this review. However, what can be said about it is that it shifts the movie into a heavier body horror piece that is simultaneously grotesque to watch and painfully tragic. As the movie flows from set piece to set piece, almost unconnected in its narrative, everything comes to a halt and irrevocably changes the energy of the film. The way the audience is brought into the third act of the film will make you audibly gasp.
It’s in this section of the film where the sound design reigns supreme. The sound effects associated with the body horror on-screen were incredibly unsettling and helped keep the gruesome nature of the situation fresh in mind while the visual component wasn’t occupying the frame. The sounds communicated such pain and discomfort while the performers involved gave non-verbal noises of such fear that it was nearly overwhelming while still managing to conserve the shock value of seeing what was happening.
Despite having strong body and cosmic horror sequences to offer, Color Out of Space doesn’t quite stick the landing when it comes to supporting characters. Chief among the supporting cast is Ward (Elliot Knight), a hydrologist in town to assess the water supply in the area. He’s introduced as a fairly major character and potential audience conduit into the lives of the Gardner family. However, he is quickly brushed aside until much later in the film when he resurfaces. This wouldn’t be much of an issue if the character didn’t play such a significant role in the film’s final act.
Tommy Chong appears as stoner hippie conspiracy theorist Ezra. He’s a delight in the limited screen time he is given and the character is the focal point of one of the coolest scenes in the film. However, Ezra isn’t given much of a chance to develop as a character nor is his kooky antics given much room to breathe in the greater scheme of things.
Despite these shortcomings, Color Out of Space is certainly a surprising cosmic and body horror display. Nicolas Cage gives a strong and notably bizarre performance that utilizes his eccentricities to good effect. Despite some weaknesses in the script regarding supporting characters, the spectacle of Color Out of Space manages to keep things moving at a good pace. There are moments that pack a punch and will stay with you long after the movie’s end.
About the Writer: Matt Hurt is the creator of ObsessiveViewer.com. He also created, hosts, and produces The Obsessive Viewer, Anthology, and Tower Junkies podcasts. He is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association and lives in Indianapolis with his cat Pizza Roll.