Director Richard Stanley’s long-overdue return to feature filmmaking, Color Out of Space (based on the 1929 Cthulhu Mythos tale by H.P. Lovecraft) has generated a lot of buzz in recent months. Having finally caught the film myself (it’s now streaming on Shudder), I regret to say that my high hopes going in ended up undercut by disappointment.
My biggest issue with Color Out of Space is that it stars a terribly miscast Nicolas Cage. The actor, in fine, Razzie-worthy form here, does his typical shtick, throwing an over-the-top temper tantrum seemingly every ten minutes. While these tirades aren’t particularly funny, they do succeed in compromising the tonality of the film. I’m pretty sure that when Lovecraft wrote his piece, goofy wasn’t the note he was going for.
Paradoxically, the same aspect that makes the film noteworthy also works against it. The updating of Color Out of Space into a modern-day context no doubt makes it more accessible as a cinematic narrative (Lovecraft’s nearly century-old, pulp-era story might seem too outdated now if strictly translated onscreen). Nevertheless, the repeated manifestations of post-meteorite-crash alien menace in the form of disrupted technologies–garbled cell phone and TV reception, deadened car engines–prove too formulaic and familiar to be effectively unsettling.
There are some terrifically trippy visuals here, as well as grotesque effects reminiscent of John Carpenter’s The Thing (Color Out of Space begs the creation of a new Oscar category: Most Disgusting Scene Featuring Alpacas). Ultimately, though, the film (despite the spectacular pyrotechnics of the climax) fails to establish itself as a work of the cosmic horror subgenre. The palpable sense of dread that Lovecraft was so adept at inducing in his reading audience is largely absent here. A pair of voiceover monologues bookending the film capture this element of Lovecraft’s work perfectly, but I wish everything heaped between in this lengthy and uneven film managed to do so as well.
For all his pop-cultural prevalence, Lovecraft is a quite difficult writer to adapt, and “The Colour Out of Space” clearly presents special challenges. Richard Stanley deserves credit, for example, for visualizing the source text’s explicitly indescribable color as a gruesome fuschia. At the same time, the representation of the inchoate monstrosity lurking in the Gardner farm’s well in the form of a winged alien insect seemed too specific and reductive (marring the fear of the unknown upon which Lovecraft traded). Color Out of Space is a laudable effort, but unfortunately a less-than-successful one.