Color out of Space (2019)

“You’re not getting out of here. None of us are. They won’t let us.” 

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Directed by Richard Stanley
Starring Nicolas Cage, Madeleine Arthur, Joely Richardson, Brendan Meyer & Elliot Knight

Richard Stanley has not made a film since 1992 and what a film to come back with!

Color out of Space is based on a short story of the same name by H. P. Lovecraft. It follows the Gardner family who are living a typical life on a farm after the mother, Theresa Gardner (Joely Richardson), is diagnosed with breast cancer. One night a meteor hits bringing with it chaos, destruction and… colour?

The opening credits expose us to an untouched land and create a real magic between the voice of the narrator and ghostly images, preparing us for the supernatural film we are about to see. These magical images are broken by the sunlit tableaus of Livinia Gardner (Madeleine Arthur), the daughter of the family, and the hydrologist, Ward Phillips (Elliot Knight), bringing us back to reality, at least for a short while.

Lavinia is your stereotypical teenager who wants to run away from home and is defying her parents, rebelling through Wiccan magic.

“I live out here, unfortunately.”

Unfortunately, this is the entirety of her character and the other characters are also lacklustre in fulfilling their roles. This is supported by many lifelessly delivered lines that may be supposed to represent character breakdown, but just sit uncomfortably. Without any development the characters become vessels both metaphorically and also physically for the colour out of space.

Interestingly, the film explores the split personality trope. We see breaks in Nathan Gardner (Nicolas Cage) as the colour takes over, a character trope Nicolas Cage plays so well. He loses control of his anger and of his entire grip on reality. This creates a much more three dimensional character than those around him, making him easily the most interesting character on screen. However, this does not mean that we care for his character. The anger, lack of care he shows his family, complete denial of the strange things happening around him and his strange obsession with alpacas does not incites empathy. Therefore, we are still watching a film filled with characters who we could not care less about.

Despite all of this, the film is still captivating, as if the colour itself has enthralled us as well. The plot moves fast and is laced with time contortion, consistently leaving us just as behind as the characters are. We do not know what time or day it is, and the characters are right there beside us;

“You know, like, one second, it was daytime and then all of a sudden, it was so dark…”

The audience is left chasing the plot, searching for some answers in this film, hoping to find some meaning. Is this a social commentary on the desperation and devastation of cancer? On the fear of radiation poisoning? Or is it just about an unknown entity coming to Earth wreaking mass destruction and we are meant to take it at nothing more than face value.

A cancer diagnosis is stressful and devastating not only for the patient but for the entire family too. The underlying stress of the mother’s cancer diagnosis reverberates through the beginning of the film, firstly shown through Lavinia’s spell asking for help to burn out the remaining cancer in her mother, and then through the constant pressure that the children are feeling by causing her stress and that any little thing will cause her health to deteriorate;

“Now go put Comet’s tack away so we’re on time for dinner and Mom doesn’t bust anymore blood vessels.”

The family also feel that she needs to checked on constantly;

“Lavinia, will you go back inside and check on your mother?”

The final comment the film makes on cancer is that is all consuming, both for the person diagnosed with the illness and also for those that love them the most. Theresa literally starts to absorb the youngest member of the family, Jack (Julian Hilliard), but the family continue to love and care for her in the best way they can. At one point Nathan even locks Lavinia in with her so that Lavinia will feed the monster her mother has become.

Color out of Space also explores the fears of radiation poisoning. The water and food becomes contaminated, destroying the minds and bodies of those who drink or bathe in it. Similarly, the animals in the surrounding area become disfigured and burned;

“Got a couple of birds in there, a white-tail, rabbit, got a fucking cat.”
“It looks like radiation burns.”

The electronics also go haywire with cars failing to start, phone calls become distorted and televisions flickering;

“You have got to do something about that dish”
“I should be working. I just checked it this morning.”

Notably, electronics can become damaged with radiation and stop working even though they look fine, which could be artistically developed into what is seen here. Radiation, if it is strong enough, can actually be seen as what has been described as a blue light which may resemble the colour that the characters see. Ezra (Tommy Chong), a squatter on the Gardner property, explains it perfectly:

“It’s just a colour. But it burns. It sucks, and it burns. It burns.”

The idea that the colour is a reflection of a real-world concept is enforced by the lack of working magic in the film. The daughter tries to do two different spells throughout the film, one Wiccan and one from the Necronomicon, and neither in anyway effects the outcome of the film. This indicates that this is not something that is magical, as magic cannot defeat it.

The CGI in Color out of Space is visually very striking. I really enjoyed the attempt at creating the illusion of a new colour. The iridescent blue/purple/green colour which recurs throughout the film is really pleasing to look at and distracts from the many faults in the acting and character development. Admittedly, there is one poorly created monster cat, however it only appears briefly and it is swiftly forgotten. I even enjoyed the negative coloured images of the monster bug’s vision. The gore special effects are also pretty impressive. I could not look away from the mother/son fusion or from the monster alpacas.

This is a fantastic B-grade horror film, filled with big monsters, strange special effects and poorly delivered lines. I could not stop watching, and would go as far as to say I actually enjoyed it – I think you will too!

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