Producers: Daniel Noah, Josh Waller, Lisa Whalen and Elijah Wood Director: Richard Stanley Screenplay: Richard Stanley and Scarlett Amaris Cast: Nicolas Cage, Joely Richardson, Q’orianka Kilcher, Madeleine Arthur, Brendan Meyer, Julian Hilliard, Elliot Knight and Tommy Chong Distributor: RLJE Films
Bringing together two cult favorites—writer H.P. Lovecraft and writer-director Richard Stanley (and three if you count star Nicolas Cage)—this modestly-budgeted adaptation of the popular 1927 short story is sufficiently creepy and campy to amuse horror aficionados, if not really scare them.
In updating what’s actually a pretty simple (and rather silly) tale, Stanley has kept the location—a remote forest area outside the small Massachusetts town of Arkham—but moved Lovecraft’s tale of an encounter with a destructive meteorite from the nineteenth century to the present. He has kept the story’s narrator, but made him a person directly involved in the action rather than someone trying to uncover evidence of what happened years later. It’s Ward Philips (Elliot Knight), a young surveyor sent into the area to assess conditions—including the quality of the water—pursuant to a major project proposed by Mayor Tooma (Q’orianka Kitcher).
Philips meets Lavinia Gardner (Madeleine Arthur) in the forest. She’s the daughter of Nathan (Cage), who’s brought his family to an isolated homestead where he’s raising vegetables and a small herd of alpacas. Lavinia is performing a ritual designed to seek supernatural help in curing her mother Theresa (Joely Richardson) of cancer. And she will develop a romantic interest in Ward, who reciprocates her interest.
The Gardner family—which also includes Lavinia’s younger brothers Benny (Brendan Meyer) and Jack (Julian Hilliard)—is soon confronted by an interstellar visitor, a meteorite that lands in their yard and emits a terrible stench and a weird, psychedelic glow. Nathan will call in the authorities and be inundated with media inquiries, but essentially the Gardners will be left to deal with the ramifications themselves.
And they are severe. The meteorite will bring a bountiful crop of huge vegetables, but they will be tasteless. And its unearthly glow will affect the insect life in the area, and the water in the well, and the animals, which morph into grotesque and dangerous shapes.
It will also have a terrible impact on the Gardners themselves.
Meanwhile Philips continues his investigation, questioning a strange local recluse, Ezra (Tommy Chong), who claims to be hearing sounds from underground that portend that something horrifying—indeed, apocalyptic—is happening.
Stanley’s approach to this material is less radical than one might expect from his reputation; the film is stylishly made on what might have been a small budget (Katie Byron’s production design and Steve Annis’ cinematography emphasize elegance, Brett W. Bachman’s editing is lapidary rather than agitated, and the visual effects are relatively modest, using gauzy visuals to obscure the fact). Nor is Colin Stetson’s droning score particularly distinctive, but it does the job.
But what makes “Color Out of Space” enjoyable is the cast, and especially Cage, who starts out making Nathan peculiar and ratchets up the temperature from there. By the close he’s in full-bore manic mode, enjoying a few scenes where he goes completely berserk before succumbing, as most of the rest of his family already has, to the meteorite’s malignant power. The rest of the actors offer able support, but it’s Cage who really carries the film with one of his patented oddball turns.
The result is a film that’s hardly a horror masterpiece but one that, like Stuart Gordon’s eighties Lovecraft adaptations “Re-Animator” and “From Beyond,” is—perhaps implausibly—a good deal of fun.