Color Out of Space
⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Run Time: 1 hour 51 minutes
Stars: Nicolas Cage, Joely Richardson, Tommy Chong, Madeleine Arthur
Writers: Scarlett Amaris, Richard Stanley, based on a short story by H.P. Lovecraft
Director: Richard Stanley
There are good latter-day Nicolas Cage movies — films like 2018’s Mandy and 2013’s The Frozen Ground, in which his characters manage to embody the unique world-weary-yet-bat-guano-crazy vibe Cage plays like no other actor.
Then there are the Nicolas Cage curiosities — supernatural potboilers that seem to employ the great Cage primarily as a wild-haired weirdo, raging at the walls in a carnival fun house.
Color Out of Space falls somewhere between the two extremes, plopping Cage’s trademark character — a middle-aged family man confronting demons inside and out — in a psychedelic sci-fi lunatic asylum. Even as the plot spirals out of control to the point of incomprehensibility, Cage manages to hold our attention, largely by matching the escalating developments, outrage for outrage.
Based on a 1927 sci-fi/horror tale by H.P. Lovecraft, Color Out of Space introduces us to the Gardner family. They’re already living on an emotional bubble: Dad is a failed painter with a drinking problem, mom (Joely Richardson) is recovering from cancer, and the daughter (Madeleine Arthur) has emotional problems that may well have contributed to the clan leaving the city and moving to a remote farm where dad is now raising alpacas (for their milk). Two younger brothers seem less afflicted, although they seem always to be sniping at each other.
Still, the Gardners appear loving enough, and reasonably content. Then one night a meteorite plows into the front yard — and pretty soon strange things start happening. For one thing, the entire area seems bathed in a strange, pinkish light. Then odd, pink plants start blooming. And the family starts acting, well, weird — lashing out in anger, collapsing into sobbing fits, losing the ability to concentrate. Finally, some truly ghastly physical transformations begin to occur, shades of Kafka’s Gregor Samsa.
As for the alpacas, well, don’t ask. Suffice to say one of the film’s highlights is Cage bellowing, “The AL-PAC-AAAAAAAS!”
Lovecraft wasn’t known for his happy endings, and that’s the main problem with Color Out of Space — after that rock lands outside, the family is clearly on a one-way slippery slide to something awful. But to what end? Co-writer/director Richard Stanley — a cult fave who hasn’t directed a narrative feature film since he was thrown off the set of Marlon Brando’s Island of Dr. Moreau in 1996 — seems to be saying something about the rot he perceives at the heart of our society (is that a Donald Trump imitation that Cage occasionally adopts?). We’re all just one unexpected catalyst away, it appears, from going stark raving mad.
Unfortunately, any point Stanley wants to make is suffocated in the film’s final freak-out, an atomic explosion of color and sound that serves only to make us lose focus on whatever resolution the film might have been building toward.
Still, for Nic Cage fans, Color Out of Space adds one more milepost in the movie star’s most intriguing career. To chowing down on a live cockroach in Vampire’s Kiss, to hitting the road with his head on fire in Ghost Rider, to his clarion call “Not the Bees!” at the end of The Wicker Man, we can now add to the Nic Cage Hall of Fame, with pride, “The AL-PAC-AAAAAAAS!”
Featured image: Nicolas Cage as Nathan in the horror / sci-fi film Color Out of Space (Photo courtesy of RLJE Films)
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