DIRECTOR: RICHARD STANLEY | SCREENPLAY: SCARLETT AMARIS | STARRING: NICOLAS CAGE, JOELY RICHARDSON, JULIAN HILLIARD, MADELEINE ARTHUR, BRENDAN MEYER | RELEASE DATE: JANUARY 24TH (USA)
Color Out of Space is one of HP Lovecraft’s more famous non-mythos stories and has spawned a number of more or less authentic adaptations. From the start this version makes it clear that it exists in its own world, setting it in the modern-day and giving us a black protagonist which would most likely have sent the famously racist Lovecraft scrambling for his lawyers. However, it does hurl references at us from across the Lovecraft canon (which STARBURST is a sucker for, even at their cheesiest) more or less navigating the plot points of the original story, adapting its path to account for 21st century sensibilities (messing with mobile signal and Skype connections is one of the eponymous colour’s more terrifying modern-day powers).
As with the original story, a mysterious object crashes on a farm, this one belonging to failed artist Nathan Gardner (Cage) and his family - his wife (Richardson) and their three kids. After the object is destroyed by lightning, a strange colour emerges and begins changing everything around it. For a Nicolas Cage film it is thankfully not dominated by him ‘doing’ Nicolas Cage (allowing for odd moments of peak Cage), and the younger actors are given good opportunity to shine on their own terms (sadly leaving Joely Richardson a bit underused).
While the menace of the original story is (in typical Lovecraft fashion) light on detail, the colour here is realised through very Spielberg-ish washes of light through mist and its effects on nature shown through a series of different CGI creatures, models, and animatronics. The latter are very effective, but sometimes the CGI is poor enough to snap you into feeling like you’re watching a slightly above average TV movie from the early 2000s. In fact, at its worst, Color Out of Space resembles a particularly fun but campily rubbish SyFy/Asylum-type film. But at its best, you genuinely invest in the characters threatened by an unknowable and indescribable alien menace. Even Nicolas Cage.
If there is a real criticism, it is that Color in Space lacks a little in cosmic horror, concentrating more on Nathan’s family being threatened by the inexplicable thing that lives in their well, navigating horror genres from ‘child with menacing invisible friend’, to ‘Shining-style Dad becoming murderous delusional menace’ to ‘David Cronenberg mutant body horror’ (all of which it does very competently). With all this genre borrowing going on it is sometimes patchy and uneven (and character motivation is all over the shop) but it is unquestionably a lot of fun.
This isn’t the greatest Lovecraft adaptation ever, doing relatively little to capture the spirit of his work, but it is an entertaining rollercoaster ride through his story that leaves you feeling cheerfully spooked if not cosmically horrified.