With COLOR OUT OF SPACE Richard Stanley delivers his first feature film for over two decades, and successfully transfers the inscrutable prose of H.P. Lovecraft’s short story to screen. Nicolas Cage is perfectly cast as a father sinking into madness, yet the director’s constant references to superior horror films often go beyond homage and diminish the film’s psychedelic atmosphere to disappointingly familiar territory.
There are many faces to the enigma known as Nicolas Cage. There’s the Nicolas Cage that randomly punches a woman in a bear suit, the Nicolas Cage that shouts at his fake hand, the Nicolas Cage that shouts “Haggis” at a security guard. There’s even a Nicolas Cage that performs an impromptu song and dance routine during a recital of Handel’s Messiah. Yet these examples have only scratched the surface. We are rewarded with another suitably deranged performance from the man of madness in this horror sci-fi, where a meteorite falls near the Arkham home of a secluded family, who then start to exhibit increasingly disturbing behaviour. Cage is quite restrained in the first act, only ramping up as he waxes lyrical about ducks and the beauty of alpaca milk. However, as soon as he starts criticising his children about neglecting these animals, his angry voice distorts into a hammy over-the-top Trump accent. Then, in a scene that would dumbfound Elio in CALL ME BY YOUR NAME, he starts sweet-talking a peach. Standard Cage behaviour. And then starts slamming peaches into a bin while shouting ‘slam dunk’. Unfortunately, a disclaimer must be made that various fruits were harmed in this film.
Cage’s exaggerated acting is matched with Steve Annis’ vibrant cinematography. The alluring pink light from the fallen meteorite spreads to an insect and a few flowers but gradually evolves into gargantuan, shining fauna that dominates the entire terrain. Beautiful wide shots of the forest frame the mystical environment that surrounds the remote house before it is invaded by coloured inhabitants. The other family members are given precious little screen time as Cage’s performance rules over much of the thin plot. Still, Joely Richardson is understated as a terminally ill mother who slowly loses her grip on reality. Her attempts to protect her youngest son Jack (Julian Hilliard) from the incoming, silent forces are obsessive and pathetic, cutting herself off from the rest of the family as she attempts to restore peace in her mind.
COLOR OUT OF SPACE loses its energy in the third act; however, as its B-movie body horror shamelessly copies the gory images from THE THING and INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS. The monster is effectively creepy, but if you’ve already witnessed the disturbing image of the banjo player/dog hybrid in Philip Kaufman’s 1978 remake, you won’t find anything new here. The final scenes of the film attempt to emulate the same fear and tension in Ari Aster’s HEREDITARY, yet the film has given no time to establish any deep familial allegory to allow any meaningful moment to take place. Attempting to gain any original responses out of these brazen imitations is, in the great Cage’s words, too quixotic.