Popular opinion suggests that American author H.P. Lovecraft’s horror epic The Color Out of Space is virtually impossible to adapt for the big screen, yet it’s been the inspiration for countless projects since the 1950s. None, however, have ever fully succeeded in recreating the paralysing fear that Lovecraft’s original novel instilled. Enter maverick filmmaker Richard Stanley.
Back behind the camera 24 years since his last non-documentary feature-length directing gig – 1996’s The Island of Dr. Moreau, which he was fired from just three days into filming – Stanley is clearly in his element. His latest is an angst-ridden body-horror (think John Carpenter’s The Thing) with all the toxic family trappings of Ari Aster’s Hereditary, starring Nicolas Cage as Nathan – a loving father who takes his family to a secluded farm as his wife battles cancer. But when a meteorite crashes on their front porch, a strange, mutating mist of colour starts transforming everything in its path to cataclysmic effect.
Bringing the story up to date by setting it in the present day, Stanley also adds more topical themes to the narrative. Nathan’s desire to live a more balanced relationship with the planet lets the director tackle subjects like climate change, but it’s never preachy and always serves the plot. In fact, the contemporary issues help convert Lovecraft’s antiquated nightmares into clear and present dangers, all felt keenly by the film’s central characters.
However, the real soul of the movie lies in Cage’s performance – a typically eccentric turn from cinema’s most bonkers performer. As heartbreaking as it is crazy, Cage’s work here is perhaps his most nuanced in the last decade. There’s also a reminder of his underrated comic timing, while Tommy Chong’s highfalutin shaman (originally intended for Iggy Pop) adds further light relief.
As for the film’s ‘monster’ – an alien force that only reveals itself as a mutating fuzz of colour – Stanley and his cinematographer Steve Annis (known for directing music videos starring Michael Kiwanuka, Mumford and Sons and Kasabian) have outdone themselves. Gorgeous and hypnotic, the ‘colour’ boasts trippy and terrifying visuals which are reinforced by Colin Stetson’s (Hereditary) eclectic score.
Ultimately, Color Out of Space might not reach the heights of the aforementioned classic The Thing, but Stanley’s intense, unpredictable and harrowing moral tale – paired with some of the stickiest, ickiest gore this side of the ’80s – is definitely one of the best Lovecraft adaptations to date.
- Director: Richard Stanley
- Starring: Nicolas Cage, Joely Richardson, Madeleine Arthur
- Release date: February 28