J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Lovecraft’s Color Out of Space


Like it or not, you will see a lot of this movie in the future. The GIF appeal of Nic Cage covered in blood yelling crazy things like “could I get a little cooperation here” is just too meme-perfect. People will inevitably lose sight of the original context, but it was all done in service of a pretty good H.P. Lovecraft adaptation. It also represents Richard Stanley’s first full-length narrative feature directorial job since the Island of Dr. Moreau debacle in 1996. Stanley and his star Nicolas Cage capture the madness and dread of Lovecraft’s source material in Color Out of Space, a SpectreVision production, which opens this Friday in New York.

While Ward Phillips is out conducting a survey of the water table outside Lovecraft’s fictional Arkham, Massachusetts, he happens across Lavinia Gardner conducting a wiccan ritual. He is quite struck by her, so is keen to see again when the municipal government calls him to inspect a meteor that landed on the Gardener farm (they raise alpacas, which sounds very Nic Cage). Weirdly, the meteor disappears by the time the media arrives.

The Gardners (and the alpacas) also start acting strangely, presumably under the meteor’s evil influence. Lavinia’s little brother Jack Gardner is more distracted and absent minded than ever. Her mother Theresa gets so spacey, she accidentally chops off her own fingers. Her father Nathan freaks out spectacularly, screaming and raging against everything he resents in life. (Yes, he is played by Nic Cage). Only she and her middle brother Benny seem relatively unaffected, at least for now.

Initially, Color feels a lot like the original Invaders from Mars in terms of its almost pastoral tone, but it slowly evolves into Mandy on PCP. Frankly, it is pretty impressive how smoothly and steadily Stanley manages the descent into utter bedlam. Of course, Nathan Gardner is the sort of role Cage was born to play. He dives in with both feet, but in this case, his acting methods perfectly suit the film. In fact, this is the best case of Cage being Cage since Mandy and Mom and Dad.



Joely Richardson portrays Theresa Gardner with a different, more neurotic kind of crazy that counterbalances Cage nicely. Madeleine Arthur also has some freaky moments as Lavinia. Ironically, the Tommy Chong gives one of the film’s most reserved performances as Ezra the spaced-out squatter. Elliot Knight and Brendan Meyer will probably go largely unsung, but they play it smart and keep things interesting and remotely tethered to reality as Phillips and brother Benny.

It starts out deceptively modestly, but Stanley’s Color takes on truly Lovecraftian dimensions as it barrels along. This could indeed be the best Lovecraft adaptation since the classic Stuart Gordon films of the 1980s. Arguably, it represents a form of redemption for Stanley and also for Lovecraft, whom the cancel-culture woke have tried to purge from out of reading lists and literary history due to his admittedly ugly prejudice (the unfortunate by-product of a life of poverty, ill-health, and social isolation). Highly recommended for fans of Lovecraftian horror and Cagian scenery-chomping, Color Out of Space opens this Friday (1/24) in New York, at the IFC Center.

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