Color Out of Space: Curse Broken, by David Bax
There have been multiple film adaptations of H.P. Lovecraft’s 1927 short story “The Colour Out of Space,” from 1965’s Die, Monster, Die! to three separate movies since 2008, including cult director Richard Stanley’s anticipated return to filmmaking after being fired from his last gig almost a quarter century ago, the new–and well worth the wait–Color Out of Space. The only version I’d seen before, though, is David Keith’s modestly budgeted but effectively stomach-churning The Curse, from 1987. As with that effort, Stanley has updated the story to the modern day; he’s also commissioned a terrifically loopy score from Colin Stetson. And yet, with its unironic commitment to the weird, ancient, horrible vision of Lovecraft, it also feels like a throwback.
In the woods outside a small town lives the Gardner family, somewhat recently relocated from a major city. The patriarch, Nathan (Nicolas Cage), having failed to find lasting success as an artist, has moved back into the home he inherited from his late father. Meanwhile, matriarch Theresa struggles to maintain her online business despite a spotty internet connection. Eldest child Lavinia (Madeleine Gardner) can’t wait to move out of the sticks, while sons Benny (Brendan Meyer) and Jack (Julian Hilliard) mostly fail to do their chores or appreciate their father. The Gardners aren’t so much dysfunctional as they are a typical family, unhappy in their own way, when a glowing meteorite plunges into the field near their house and soon starts changing everything, inside and out.
At the first, the changes only come in the film’s atmosphere, marked by creepy sound design and increasingly tense performances, masterfully giving Color Out of Space a constant and oppressive sense of not just fear but discomfort. Eventually, the changes start to manifest in other ways. Stanley is balancing multiple modes of the genre at once but the one that’s most likely to make a lasting impression is body horror, at least one potent instance of which is nightmare-inducing. Consider yourself warned.
Stanley works his sadistic magic on the mind as well. Casting Tommy Chong as the town hermit may suggest fun stoner vibes but the psychedelia on display here is more of the bad trip variety, where no one’s decisions make logical sense and every new change is terrifying. There are gorgeous, hallucinatory visual effects but Color Out of Space would be a truly upsetting movie to watch on acid.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t a few laughs. Cage plays a spot-on dorky dad with a barely hidden streak of pathetic desperation. He’s Clark Griswold approached from a wholly different angle and, even amidst the nauseous chaos, Nathan’s insistence that “Everything’s under control” is darkly hilarious.
With the addition of a visiting hydrologist (Elliot Knight) who’s concerned about the viability of the town’s water supply, Stanley feints in the direction of making a climate change parable. But that’s ultimately a red herring. Color Out of Space is more concerned with the spreading toxicity in a family who are unable to address their malaise or escape what’s causing it (namely, each other). Pretty scary stuff.