There are two words that can be used to describe Richard Stanley’s Color Out of Space: “Huh?” and “What?”. Another two words are “Existential” and “Dread”, because this movie is simply DRIPPING with it. Loosely based on an H.P. Lovecraft short story, the film tells the tale of the Gardner family who have moved out to their family farm in the boonies after the mother of the family, Theresa (Joely Richardson), has had a double mastectomy for cancer. The family is comprised of the mother, the father Nathan (Nicolas Cage) who is a not very successful farmer, eldest son Benny (Brendan Meyer) who is a pot-smoking slacker, younger son Jack (Julian Hilliard) who only really communicates through the family dog, and daughter Lavinia (Madeleine Arther) who is a practicing Wiccan.
The move has placed a great deal of strain on the family but they’re doing their best to try and get through it all and make a new life for themselves, adapting to the changes from the big city to living on this isolated farm. So far, so Lifetime Movie. But then a meteor crash lands outside the house one night, flooding the area around it with a strange light and sound… and after that?
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After that, reality thanks you for playing and hopes you enjoy your slow descent into FUCKING INSANITY as the very fabric of reality around the house, and of the people within, begins to warp and shift in initially seemingly strange but relatively benign ways. Events, however, rapidly pick up pace and soon it becomes clear that whatever is going on here, it’s not going to end well for anyone as the colour (color?) sets out to remake everything around it. The less said about the Alpacas the better.
The visuals here are just breathtaking and if ever there was a film that justified a 4K purchase, this would be it, but even in standard HD it looks amazing. Beautiful, ominous, enticing and eerie. The house and everything around it becomes drenched in an otherworldly haze that cuts the family off from the outside world and messes with their minds and their perceptions. The latter half of the film is like some strange fever dream or a bad acid trip, with the visuals enhanced by Colin Stetson’s soundtrack work.
The acting here is universally spot on, from Benny’s wide-eyed confusion to Jack’s innocent obsession with “the man who lives in the well”, but special praise has to be heaped on Nicolas Cage for again reminding everyone that he really, really can act. This is definitely his finest performance since Mandy. He plays Nathan as the everyman, just trying to do the right thing by his family, a loving husband and supportive father, which makes his sudden personality shifts in the latter half of the film all the more jarring. It’s not just that his personality changes, his voice changes, his posture changes, he curls in on himself, face twisted into a sneer, and he switches between the two effortlessly. It remains a mystery why he takes on so many bad films, but when inspiration strikes, when the moons align, and when the script and the director are just right, he can still be a delight to watch.
Also, Tommy Chong is in it and he’s great fun as Ezra, the local squatter, as Nathan describes him. Seemingly harmless it quickly becomes clear that he might know more about what’s going on than anyone else, and his final scene is… well, we won’t spoil it, but it’ll have the hair on the back of your neck standing on end.
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Color out of Space is not a monster film, or a slasher film, or a conventional horror in a lot of ways. It’s a film, as mentioned earlier, about existential dread. You know something is wrong. You can’t put your finger on it, but you KNOW. This film is saturated in that feeling: every scene, every frame, every shot. It presses down on you all around, but at the same time it plays out slowly, dragging that sensation out till it’s almost overwhelming. The nearly two hour runtime can be slow to start, but once that meteor lands then it transforms into a nerve-shredding exercise of anxiety and fear.
Frustratingly, for a film that is a strong 4 out of 5, this UK Blu-ray release has no special features. At all. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zero. Bugger all. This is in stark contrast to the US release, which contains deleted scenes and a making-of documentary, which should be the absolute bare minimum for a physical release. Why the UK continues to get sub-standard releases in this day and age is a mystery, but there we go.
I don’t know if this is a film I would want to watch more than once. It’s a hard watch simply because of that oppressive atmosphere of dread, but it’s a spectacular achievement from everyone associated with it. It’s just a shame that this physical release is so lacking in anything to allow audiences to dig deeper into this strange, twisted slice of eldritch reality.