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Director Richard Stanley's H.P. Lovecraft adaptation trades body-horror tension for a barely coherent cosmic light show
COLOR OUT OF SPACE (Richard Stanley). 111 minutes. Opens Friday (January 24). See listing. Rating: NNN
On paper, Color Out Of Space is a hell of a picture. It’s an adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s short story about the paranormal chaos that ensues when a meteor lands on a tiny farm – embedding an otherworldly contamination into everything and everyone there – directed by maverick South African filmmaker Richard Stanley. Also, Nicolas Cage as an alpaca farmer? What could go wrong?
Well, nothing, really. But it doesn’t exactly go right, either. There’s some good stuff, but there’s also a lot of stuff in general, and eventually it all sort of drowns itself out.
Making a long-awaited return to features after being fired from the 1996 adaptation of The Island Of Dr. Moreau, Stanley – who made his name with the scrappy, tactile nightmares of Hardware and Dust Devil – updates Lovecraft’s text for the present day smoothly, establishing a sense of grim seclusion on the remote alpaca farm even before the weirdness starts.
He takes his time setting up the eerie atmosphere, giving Cage and Joely Richardson some room to establish a loving rapport as Nathan and Theresa Gardner, a big-city couple who’ve retreated to the sticks with their kids after a cancer diagnosis. It’s been an adjustment: older son Benny (The OA’s Brendan Meyer) is medicating himself with pot, teen daughter Lavinia (To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before’s Madeleine Arthur) is in a bit of a Wiccan phase and youngest Jack (Julian Hilliard) has retreated into himself. And then that meteor crashes to Earth, injecting its alien material into the farm’s water table – and into the Gardners.
That takes its time, too, with odd vegetation sprouting up at the contact point and the alpacas starting to act funny – offering Cage the opportunity to repeat the word “alpaca” until it loses all meaning – while Jack starts chatting with something no one else can see or hear.
Visiting grad student Ward Phillips (American Gothic’s Elliot Knight), who’s mostly been flirting with Lavinia, slowly figures out something’s wrong and tries to alert the town’s oblivious mayor (the entirely wasted Q’orianka Kilcher, of The New World and Hostiles). But by that point the movie’s tipped over into full body-horror nightmare, with Stanley unleashing his effects budget on the sets and cast.
Arthur holds the screen nicely as the sensible, increasingly panicked Lavinia, especially once Cage starts going bigger and bigger as the infection takes hold. But once Stanley unleashes the CG-driven chaos he can’t really control it, and Color Out Of Space trades its tension for a barely coherent cosmic light show that goes on a lot longer than it needs to. (And if you want to watch Cage lose his shit in truly transcendent fashion, Mandy is right there.)
Last year at TIFF, when it splashed across Ryerson’s screen in the Midnight Madness program and blasted audiences at the Scotiabank’s IMAX screen, the film’s glorious excess was more of a feature than a bug. But scaled down to smaller venues and streaming, the experience is more grinding than transporting.