It’s rare for a film to leave me utterly speechless, but Richard Stanley’s Color Out of Space (2020) has rendered me completely shaken. I literally sat staring at the screen after the credits had stopped rolling, completely stupefied and mesmerized. Creating satisfying adaptations of the works of H.P. Lovecraft has proved a daunting task for the most seasoned of directors over the years, but Richard Stanley (our interview with the legend here) has gifted us with a psychedelic and powerful piece of cosmic terror for the ages.
Based on a short story penned by Lovecraft in 1927, Color Out of Space introduces us to Nathan and Theresa Gardener, and their three children Lavinia, Benny, and Jack. The Gardeners are just your common, everyday folk, farming and raising alpacas in the isolation of the woods, far removed from the hustle and bustle of the nearest city of Arkham, Massachusetts. But their idyllic, peaceful life of seclusion is about to get flipped upside when a meteorite comes crashing into their front yard, with a colossal boom and burst of blinding pink light. Once the initial shock begins to subside, the family begins noticing all sorts of odd changes, both in their minds and their bodies. Each member of the family seems affected in their own unique way. These weird behaviors only continue to escalate, as with each passing day, they seemingly fall deeper under the thrall of some unseen extraterrestrial entity. Before all is said and done, this malevolent entity will put this sweet wholesome family through a neon-drenched hell, culminating in a dizzying climax that has to be seen to be believed.
Color Out of Space is a dazzling color-splashed piece of sci-fi/horror mastery. Released by RLJE Films and produced by the fine folks at SpectreVision, who also gave us the neon-drenched insanity of Mandy (our review here), the film stars Nicolas Cage (Mandy – 2018), Joely Richardson (Event Horizon – 1997, Nip/Tuck series), Madeleine Arthur (To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before – 2018), Brendan Meyer (The Guest – 2014), Julian Hilliard (The Haunting of Hill House series), Elliot Knight (American Gothic series), and the venerable Tommy Chong (Up in Smoke – 1978), appropriately cast as the friendly crazy neighbor Ezra.
As for what you can expect from Color Out of Space, imagine if Annihilation (2018), From Beyond (1986), and John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) all had a grossly deformed love child together, with a dash of Mandy sprinkled in for good measure. I say sparingly on the Mandy comparisons, because other than the SpectreVision and Nicolas Cage connection, and the hallucinogenic arthouse delivery style, they’re drastically different movies. Don’t go into this expecting more of the demented Rage Cage insanity that Mandy brought. Cage is as unhinged as ever and is perfectly cast to play Nathan Gardener, but his is a much more gradual, spiraling descent into madness, ala Jack Torrance from The Shining. I think it’s easily one of Nicolas’ finest, and most nuanced performances I’ve seen in some time.
But the rest of the cast is not be outdone, as there are sterling performances across the board. Elliot Knight does a phenomenal job as Ward Phillips, a hydrologist hired by Mayor Tooma to test the waters of Arkham and the surrounding towns in preparation for the new reservoir she plans to open. After the meteorite makes its crash landing and the weird events start happening, Ward is called upon to investigate the situation. Through his testing, he’s able to determine that the Gardener’s in-ground well and water supply has been compromised, and may be how the entity is spreading its infection. He also has excellent chemistry with Madeleine Arthur, who massively shines as the Gardener’s daughter Lavinia. Out of all the family, she seems the most cognizant that something horribly wrong is happening here, and tries desperately to be the voice of reason in coaxing them to leave before it’s too late. Lavinia is the show-stealer here, showcasing both tremendous strength, but also has a very relatable vulnerability about her. This also illustrates something I hugely love about what Richard Stanley has done with his interpretation of Color Out of Space, allowing women and people of color to have powerful and prominent roles in the story. Lovecraft’s extremely narrow-minded, discriminatory views towards race and gender have been well-documented, so huge kudos to Stanley for righting these wrongs so beautifully.
What really takes center stage with Color Out of Space, however, is the absolutely mind-blowing visuals. Filmed primarily in Portugal, the natural beauty of the scenery even before the meteorite hits is breathtaking to behold. The peaceful serenity of the farmhouse kind of lulls viewers into a false sense of security before all hell breaks loose. Once the meteorite does arrive, the space all around the farmhouse erupts into a dazzling array of colors. Flowers begin blooming, the fruits and vegetables succulent and thriving, even the very air surrounding the property is filled with a pinkish purple haze, a stark contrast to the dark evening sky. Stanley and the team have incorporated a rich tapestry of vibrant color into the proceedings here. But make no mistake about it, this is also body horror of the highest order. I don’t throw around The Thing comparisons loosely, and if I have the audacity to go there, rest assured there are some incredible gore and practical fx going on. There are some spectacular creature effects on display here. The grisly fate of Theresa Gardener is particularly harrowing. In Lovecraft’s short story, the meteorite infects the soil, the water, and the animals, and ultimately drives Theresa mad, forcing Nathan to lock her up in the attic. I won’t give away any spoilers, but Stanley takes a few liberties with the story to create a much more hideous and horrifying fate for Theresa, and deeply unsettling to boot.
Color Out of Space pairs its head-exploding visuals with a magnificent musical score as well. Colin Stetson did an incredible job of crafting a powerful and driving score for this movie. It may get off to an initially slow-burn pace in the beginning, but once the shit hits the fan, the pace is absolutely merciless, and the score suits the urgency perfectly.
I know we’re only in January, but Color Out of Space has already poised itself as one of the best horror movies of 2020, or any year for that matter. It marks a powerful return to form from the legendary Richard Stanley and is one of the best adaptations of an H.P. Lovecraft story ever put to film. The deeply unsettling, ferocious body horror wizardry splashed against the dazzling, hallucinogenic color palette on display is absolutely jaw-dropping. This isn’t just a movie, ladies and gentlemen, Color Out of Space is an EXPERIENCE. Unsettling, disturbing, breathtaking, bewildering, epic in every possible sense of the word. If you are a horror fan, you owe it to yourself to encounter this unforgettable excursion. Color Out of Space was officially released today, January 24th, on VOD and a limited theatrical run. DVD and Blu-ray are currently tentatively set to release around February 25th in North America through RLJE Films and IMAGE Entertainment.