Color Out of Space (2020; Richard Stanley)
By Daniel Barnes
*Now playing in San Francisco and Berkeley.
Something evil lurks in the forest in Color Out of Space, a mixed-bag adaptation of the H.P. Lovecraft short story. Psychedelic horror meets lo-fi Spielberg-ian family fantasy in the gleam of Nicolas Cage’s crazy eyes. Sounds fun, but what the film lacks in originality, it also lacks in subtlety and cohesion.
“His Usual Scenery-Devouring Work”
Cage plays Nathan Gardner, an ex-urbanite struggling to adapt to country life. Nathan lives on an isolated family farm in the dark woods with his cancer survivor wife Theresa (Joely Richardson) and their three kids. One night, a purple-pink meteor crashes into the farm near the well. The meteor dissolves into dust overnight, but it seeps into the water supply.
This alien infection profoundly affects time and space while also deteriorating the psyches of the Gardner family. A visiting hydrologist offers explanations based on science. However, the tainted water seems to herald an alien apocalypse.
For all its faults, the film will not disappoint fans of pointless Nic Cage freakouts. Whether zestily milking an alpaca or gnawing through a pile of alien fruit, Cage does his usual scenery-devouring work. It’s entertaining enough, but I couldn’t help thinking about Lisa Simpson’s assessment of Jim Carrey: “He can make you laugh with nothing more than a frantic flailing of his limbs.”
Cage goes for it, for better or worse, and so does Color Out of Space, for worse. Alien-tainted water is Stanley’s cue to make everything self-consciously crazy. Theresa cuts off her fingers and barely notices, while her youngest child converses with “the man in the well.” Blood pours out of the sink. Pink CGI insects and CGI demon kitties abound. Meanwhile, Tommy Chong plays a hermit who hears “aliens under the floor.” Crazy vegetables, crazy monsters, crazy flowers, crazy blood rituals, crazy self-harm, crazy alpaca goo monsters. It’s all here.
In addition to direct nods to Poltergeist and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Stanley’s film bears a striking resemblance to Annihilation. Stanley tries to capture that same mix of moody sci-fi and cerebral horror, but it proves beyond his grasp. In the most disturbing sequence, Theresa and her son get fused by purple-pink alien lightning. It’s horrifying in concept, but in Stanley’s hands, it merely leads to 20 minutes of agonized gurgling.
A B-movie director famous for getting fired from The Island of Dr. Moreau, Stanley excels at creating an unsettling mood. However, he’s pretty terrible at shaping sequences, maintaining momentum, or reigning in actors. The final third of Color Out of Space grows stagnant and gross, leading to a long, annoying, fx-heavy finale.