Color out of Space (dir. Richard Stanley, 2020) – The Gardners begin to experience a series of inexplicable phenomena after their farmhouse was struck by a strange meteorite.
Howard Phillips Lovecraft never lived to see the fruits of his labour. During his lifetime, his works were almost exclusively confined within pulp magazines. In 1937, he succumbed to intestinal cancer in poverty at the young age of 46, before his books ever saw the light of day.
Yet today, it is impossible to talk about horror without the mention of H.P. Lovecraft. His Cthulhu Mythos made a profound impact on pop culture, particularly the literary genre, influencing the likes of Clive Barker and Stephen King. In film, his stories made Stuart Gordon’s career that began with two genre masterworks, From Beyond and Re-Animator.
At the Mountains of Madness, which he believed to have done “more than anything to end [his] effective fictional career”, ended up inspiring one of John Carpenter’s best works. This long line of successors sees Richard Stanley join in with The Colour Out of Space, or as the American filmmaker would have it, Color out of Space.
The tale centres on Nathan Gardner (Nicolas Cage), who has recently moved into a new home with his wife Theresa (Joely Richardson) and children Lavinia, Benny and Jack (Madeleine Arthur, Brenden Meyer and Julian Hilliard).
Soon after a large meteorite strikes their farmland, they begin to see changed behaviours and deformities in their farm animals. It is not long before the family experiences their own altered reality beyond their comprehension, sinking into their own descent.
Amidst the extraterrestrial madness, Color out of Space possesses an aptly dark sense of humour, making Cage’s occasional histrionics feel right at home amidst the terror of the unknowns. It cements him as the character actor that we may not deserve, yet doubtlessly need.
While one may be tempted to dwell on performances, the film is more to be admired for its finesse and understanding of its material. It matters little that the colour on screen does exist. The purple remains an ominous shade of luminosity as Richard Stanley perfects the surreal atmosphere that captures Lovecraftian horror in spirit, without falling into pastiche.
Notably, he also addresses Lovecraft’s notorious racism and misogyny with his diverse cast. Ward (Elliot Knight), a young hydrologist who gets caught up in the madness, has the job of narrating the Lovecraftian tome almost verbatim.
But Stanley has also remained faithful to the Lovecraftian work in ways other than pure repetition. His modern-day adaptation roots firmly in a boundless universe much bigger than us, in it are cosmic mysteries that humanity may never comprehend or resolve.
The result bears similarities to the much maligned 2016 stunner The Void, both conjuring a constant fear of the unknown that Lovecraft once hailed as the oldest and strongest kind of fear. The visuals are remarkable, disturbing yet compelling.
Dark imagination births grotesque nightmares, unleashing horrific body horror in the final act that will make both Carpenter and David Cronenberg proud. There is not much in the way of explanation, but there is little need for it.
The apparent disconnect in Color Out of Space reminds us of how impossible and inconsequential our understanding is of a universe that exists far beyond us. As Lovecraft once said, the most merciful thing in the world may just be the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents.
Where horror thrives in vivid luminosity, Color out of Space pays a near-perfect homage to H.P. Lovecraft.