By Michael Kalafatis
“West of Arkham, the hills rise wild and there are valleys with deep woods that no ax has ever cut. There are dark, narrow glens where the trees slope fantastically, where thin brooklets trickle without ever having caught the glimpse of sunlight.”
Nicholas Cage plays Nathan Gardner who moves with his family to a rural farm in Arkham to become a farmer and raise alpaca for their milk. His wife Theresa (Joely Richardson) is a financial advisor who has had mastectomy, their daughter Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur) practices Wicca, a pagan religion, her brother Benny (Brendan Meyer) spends most of his time with Ezra, a local hermit smoking pot and lastly Jack (Julian Hilliard) the youngest member of the family is inseparable from his dog. The film starts by introducing the Garner’s family and how they interact with each other e.g. aloof mother, delusional father, rebellious daughter. Then a comet clashes in the front yard emitting an indescribable color similar to magenta (reddish-purple), its ominous and unnatural color is the first indication that it carries an extraterrestrial organism unlike anything else on earth, and this organism gradually starts to infect the farm and its inhabitants.
Richard Stanley returns in the director’s chair since he was fired from The Island of Dr. Moreau in 1996, and adapts one of Lovecraft’s best short stories also called The Color Out of Space. Stanley co-wrote the screenplay with Scarlet Amaris, both managed to successfully convey the main themes of the short story e.g. fear of the unknown, macabre images, human fragility, ambiguity, hopelessness and helplessness. The film, like the short story, starts in an eerie tone and gradually becomes more disturbing and horrifying, mixing horror with avant-garde elements. Thus Stanley has created a hybrid film that uses macabre, horrifying images (horror) and psychedelic images (avant-garde). The film alternates between disturbing and gorgeous visuals, a horror art film that is both appalling (deforms alpaca) and aesthetically pleasing (purple landscape).
Color Out of Space features good performances but Cage is the most interesting performance, just like in Mandy (2018) his character is a calm, everyday person who circumstances changes him into a frightening character, and even though his performance is semi-farcical it does not verge into self-parody like in Wicker Man. For an independent film that has a small budget as Color Out of Space the special effects are very well designed and believable and help to elevate the horror. The sporadic appearance of special effects and the inclusion of practical effects and macabre prosthetic are the elements that make the film’s world work and retain Lovecraft’s vision.
The cinematography by Steve Annis is just unbelievably beautiful, at the start of the film it features bright colors resembling a fairy tale but after the arrival of the comet everything starts to be enshrouded into a fuchsia hue, conveying a psychedelic and frightening vibe that unsettles. This unsettling presence that contaminates most inhabitants of the farm including vegetables and animals is perfectly conveyed by Colin Stetson’s musical score, that like the cinematography starts in a more hopeful tone and gradually gets darker as the Garner’s family increasingly gets more helpless.
Lovecraft is a very difficult writer to adapt, he is a very influential figure in both horror and science fiction genre but unlike Edgar Allan Poe or Stephen King his stories are every hard to adapt into feature films because of his fascination for the unknown and indescribable which featured prominently in most of his stories. So, when a filmmaker wants to adapt his stories he has to be imaginative just like Stanley who did not know what the color of the title is supposed to look like but managed to create a color that is alien, unsettling and weirdly beautiful.