One thought kept running through my head as I watched Color Out of Space: “What the fuck is this?” It’s become almost a cliche at this point to highlight how “weird” and “bonkers” the latest Nicolas Cage movie is. But even those well-versed in the art of Cage’s self-titled Nouveau Shamanic acting style won’t be prepared for what’s in store with Richard Stanley‘s adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s story. The prospect of Cage uniting with such a fascinating director as Stanely – whose career hit a major roadblock after the disaster of shooting The Island of Doctor Moreau – is too intriguing to pass up. But is the end result actually worthwhile? Or just so damn weird that it has to be seen to be believed?
Nathan (Cage) and Theresa Gardner (Joely Richardson) are living a seemingly idyllic farm life in rural New England, raising alpacas and ignoring the outside world. The family has gone through a recent trauma in the form of Theresa’s breast cancer, but the family – which also includes Wiccan teen daughter Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur), stoner teen son Benny (Brendan Meyer), and young child Jack (Julian Hilliard) – seem to be in a good place for the time being. That won’t last, though. Because one night, a meteorite crashes onto the Gardner farm, unleashing a wave of madness and what-the-fuckery designed to drive both the family – and the film’s audience – out of their minds.
Calling Color Out of Space weird seems like an affront to weirdness. This movie transcends the weird, dipping into territory that I don’t think they’ve invented words for yet. Part of that has to do with the schizophrenic tone at play. Stanley has conjured up some truly nightmarish imagery, most of it involving body horror that turns people into mutated spider-like abominations. But the film also apparently wants to be some sort of gonzo comedy, and that never quite coalesces with the horror.
The comedy comes almost entirely from Cage, who appears to be acting in a completely different movie than everyone else. As the meteorite unleashes all sorts of alien toxicity into the air and slowly drives the family insane, it’s Cage’s Nathan who goes the craziest, which means we get to watch scene after scene of Cage screaming about alpacas, peaches, his father, hospitals, bad smells, and more. The crazier his character gets, the more out-there Cage becomes, often using the same goofy voice he employed as the yuppie bloodsucker in Vampire’s Kiss.
Make no mistake: watching Cage lose his shit is an absolute blast, and it’s nearly impossible not to burst into laughter as the actor goes off. The problem is that Cage’s work is so far removed from everything and everyone else in the movie that you start to resent any scene that doesn’t focus on him. It doesn’t help that the rest of the cast is alarmingly lackluster. Richardson does well with a somewhat undercooked part, but the remaining actors are oddly limp, delivering their lines as if they just learned them a second ago. Madeleine Arthur, in particular, is distractingly bland as Cage and Richardson’s witchy daughter. Sadly, she becomes the default main character, and it becomes quite difficult to care much about her actions.
Stanley may not be able to squeeze great performances from his cast, but he is able to conjure up plenty of distressing imagery, loading Color up with visual effects that are sometimes clunky (a CGI cat is particularly bad), and sometimes absolutely terrifying (a moment when two characters have their bodies fused together and are reduced to a writhing mass of wet, fish-white flesh is guaranteed to give you the heebie-jeebies). Director of Photography Steve Annis shoots all of this with ominous stylishness, making great use of strange, alien-like colors that continually saturate the screen. The creepy score, courtesy of Colin Stetson, is both droning and operatic – and loud. Noise plays a huge part in the film, with Stanley and his crew ratcheting up the sound to extreme levels, so much so that you can feel the teeth in your mouth starting to vibrate. There’s also a constant whistling sound ringing out in nearly every scene – a choice that grows tedious and even painful after awhile.
All of this works to create a sensory overload, resulting in a film that drains you emotionally and mentally. As things grow more dire and mad for the Gardners, don’t be surprised if you find your eyes starting to water and your head starting to pound. It’s not an altogether pleasant experience, but it’s probably the exact sort of nightmarish, unquantifiable situation that would make H.P. Lovecraft proud.
/Film Rating: 6.5 out of 10
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