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COLOR OUT OF SPACE gets 8/10 Purple prose


Directed by Richard Stanley

Starring Nicolas Cage, Joely Richardson, Madeleine Arthur

8/10

Classic horror writer H.P. Lovecraft’s brand of horror often brings a rather particular set of challenges with it. After all, the Elder Gods and the strange beings that exist under them are often referred to as indescribable or unfathomable. Impossible creatures whose very existence breaks the rules that humankind thought governed reality, and sends those that witness them tumbling towards madness.

Yet it’s a challenge that numerous filmmakers have taken on, either with official adaptations of the popular pulp writers’ work, or drawing inspiration from his richly twisted mythos. Lovecraft’s 1927 short story The Colour Out of Space has seen a number of versions, from producer Roger Corman’s Die Monster Die! (1965), to¬†The Curse (1987), to a few indie and foreign outings. Even Annihilation (2018) owes some of its deformed alien DNA to this piece of prose. So how does Richard Stanley (Hardware) tackle a colour that is beyond human comprehension, and an alien intellect bent on not merely conquering, but becoming all that it encounters?

Frankly, he does this with a lot of purple, and a bravado piece of filmmaking that manages to take audiences on a wild ride.

The everyday farm life of the Gardner’s is thrown into chaos when a meteor crashes into their property. The chunk of space debris glows a strange colour unlike anything they have ever seen before and attracts lightning from the sky. Over the next few days increasingly strange events begin to happen, and Lavinia Gardner (Madeleine Arthur) soon starts to believe that the rock harbours an otherworldly presence.

Stanley brings an almost painterly eye to this film, balancing that terror and lunacy with some genuine cinematic beauty. It’s amazing how much tension he can create with a purple gel light and a whistle. The first part of the film is filled with existential dread, as reality starts to change due to the meteor’s influence over the surroundings. It’s a disorientating attack across a number of fronts, that conveys the usual growing confusion and slow slide towards insanity that is so predominant in Lovecraft’s works. As it reaches a tipping point, Color Out of Space shifts to full-blown cosmic horror, revelling in gore and twisted flesh, that would do Carpenter or Cronenberg proud.

When it does undergo this shift, that sense of subtlety that characterised the first half of the film is abandoned, revealing a brave and bold assault on the senses. At times this goes a little too far, tipping over to the point of parody, but Stanley keeps it on a mostly even keel. As such Nicolas Cage (as the father of the Gardner clan) is the perfect actor to convey this, with a career dominated by outlandish over the top performances, but also capable of conveying quiet introspection. Here he’s given full sway, ramping up the performance as the film progresses, and almost perfectly charting the Gardner family’s descent into the swirling madness brought to them from beyond the stars.

It’s an audacious film, and one that at times pitches itself too far beyond the pale, but that is what we love about it. Color Out of Space is an imperfect piece lacking a little in thematic depth beyond the terror that the original short story conveys, but a film that will entertain and excite. This is the sort of horror film that you can easily see building a following years after its release, as Color Out of Space manages to convey the cosmic horror of Lovecraft’s lore in a compellingly beautiful fashion.

DAVID O’CONNELL

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