Sunday, 15 November 2020

Color Out of Space - Review

Well, here we are - a new movie adaptation of Lovecraft's classic tale. What's more, it's helmed by British director Richard Stanley, who also has a writing credit along with Scarlett Amaris. Stanley is perhaps best known for his horror movie Dust Devil, but he is also famous for being kicked off the set of his attempt to film The Island of Doctor Moreau. Thus Color Out of Space is being hailed as the return of Richard Stanley. Is it a triumphant return? 

Well, yes, in that the film is hugely entertaining all the way through. It begins with Lovecraft's words - 'West of Arkham the hills rise wild...' as the opening titles roll and we are shown a lot of trees. Then we cut to a witch conducting a ceremony by a lake. The witch is Lavinia Gardner (Madeleine Arthur), a young actor who pretty much holds things together at some key moments. Lavinia has just moved to the boondocks and is casting a spell in the hope it will get her back to the big city. Enter hydrologist Ward Phillips (Elliot Knight), who shows he has more knowledge of this spell-casting stuff than you'd imagine. Like Arthur, Knight is eminently watchable - for the right reasons.

Oh that the same could be said for Nicolas Cage as paterfamilias Nathan, who is very much in the film and getting paid. I've no idea what the back story to Cage's decline is, but suffice to say is not as bad here as he was in the Wicker Man 're-imagining'. Theresa Gardner (Joely Richardson) is here a stock market trader and breast cancer survivor, though I'm not sure why. Along with Lavinia the Gardners have two sons, Benny and Jack, plus a dog and some alpacas. Alpaca farming is another rather under-explored addition to the plot, I feel. 

Anyway, the Gardner family are already showing cracks when something weird arrives by night. The film handles the issue of a 'color nobody has seen before'' by making it mauve. Not sure what this says about rural America, but it's not in monochrome so they had to do something. And it works quite well. The lurid glow from the meteorite and the gradual infection/possession of the water, land, livestock, and people is well-handled. Essentially Stanley telescopes the action of the original text into a few short days. 

I ought ot mention that there's an old guy living off-grid in the woods, Ezra, who is on to this whole meteor thing from the start. Ezra is played by Tommy Chong, who handles the hermit with wisdom to impart role will great aplomb. As the color spreads its influence the film becomes something of a tribute to Carpenter's The Thing, with creatures melding together and hideous mutation running amok. Cage's performance does not improve, he just gets louder, but that's showbiz. Finally, the alien entity leaves, having revealed nothing about itself other than its essential incomprehensibility. 

The final scene has Ward at the dam of the new reservoir in a suitably ominous conclusion. Worth noting her that Elliot Knight is black, which I took as a direct rebuke to Lovecraft's bigotry, as he is the Everyman narrator of the tale. One of the scenes involving Ward shows him reading 'The Willows' by Blackwood, one of many nice nods to the origins of what we now call Lovecraftian fiction. 

This is, I think, the best of three recent adaptation of 'The Color Out of Space'. Ivan Zuccon's Colour from the Dark is arguably the most trad horror, while Die Farbe (German-made, in black and white) adheres most closely to the story. All are worth a look. Is this a golden age of Lovecraftian cinema? It may well be. There's certainly an awful lot of stuff in the pipeline...

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