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Color Out of Space

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 01/30/20 06:21:36

"Makes one say I DO NOT LIKE THAT THING in the best way."
5 stars (Awesome)

"Color Out of Space" is the first horror movie in a while to have me giving second glances to things I saw out of the corner of my eye between the theater and the bus stop, so if nothing else, I've got to give it credit for working on that purely visceral level. It's better than that, though; Richard Stanley's film genuinely gave me the creeps and I can only "yeah, but..." that in one or two fairly minor ways.

It starts off by referring to a more grounded bit of horror as Lavinia Gardner (Madeleine Arthur) does a sort of neo-pagan ritual to hopefully dispel the cancer that mother Theresa (Joely Richardson) has been fighting, before being interrupted by hydrologist Ward (Elliot Knight) and returning home to her family's farm, deep in the Arkham, Massachusetts woods, where father Nathan (Nicolas Cage) is making a go of raising alpacas and brother Benny (Brendan Meyer) wanders off to get high with squatter Ezra (Tommy Chong). Youngest brother Jack (Julian Hilliard) already awake when a meteor crashes into the yard that night, glowing a strange color and seeming to assail the other senses as well. It soon starts sinking into the ground but nevertheless having an uncanny effect on the farm and those in it.

Stanley and co-writer Scarlett Amaris are adapting a story by H.P. Lovecraft, and while hardly the first, this is likely the highest-profile one to actually get made (Guillermo del Toro and Tom Cruise had a big-budget project fall apart shortly before filming). Despite Lovecraft's long-lasting influence and popularity, adapting him has often proved difficult as his strengths - the quality of his prose and its descriptions of terrors which the human mind cannot comprehend - are not an easy match for film, and that his conception of those terrors was likely rooted in a level of racism and xenophobia that raised eyebrows in the early twentieth century does not help. Stanley and company do what they can to see the story modernized but not awkwardly so, from making sure that the most decent and reasonable character is African-American to establishing Theresa's cancer as a way for the viewer to think of something invasive and mutating from the start. It is, perhaps, a little less abstract than the story, and less mysterious if only because there have been decades of pop-culture terrors brought to Earth via meteors since its publication, but it becomes a filmable movie that way, giving the cast room to show how this messes the characters up.

By and large, they do this well. Madeleine Arthur is given a character in Lavinia who is deliberately full of contradictions, playing different parts and just close enough to adulthood to recognize a situation's seriousness, and Arthur is able to use that to make her perhaps the most adaptable and the most vulnerable. Elliot Knight plays Ward as the straight man to a universe that isn't exactly funny, a heroic figure that is kind of impotent in the face of this particular scale of danger, while Joely Richardson's Theresa can be seen clinging more desperately to normality. Surprisingly, the weakest part is often Nicolas Cage's performance, and even that is kind of great half the time, when he's playing the dorky but well-meaning dad trying to be cool or in control. That's grounded but overwhelming, and the panic that springs from it believable, and a good counter to what we expect Cage to be at this point in his career. He overreaches when there's got to be something off about the guy, though, with weird voices and deliveries that don't quite ring true.

On the other hand, Richard Stanley and his team have almost everything else locked down. This place pre-transformation is beautiful but a little unnerving in its isolation, never quite seeming like a pastoral idyll. Color is probably the most beautifully shot horror movie since The Wailing, even when Stanley and company flood the screen with pinks to suggest Lovecraft's unknown color. The filmmakers do a nice job of doling out the creepy bits to counter the prettiness, choosing building unease over jump scares that have built-in moment of catharsis. It's especially impressive that even the smooth, plastic bits of CGI elicit a reaction of "NO I DO NOT LIKE THIS THING ONE BIT" when those moments especially would often be rejected as fake; Stanley knows how to make something last just long enough that you don't get used to it, or morph so that it's differently horrible when he revisits it.

Doing that sort of thing is arguably just good horror-movie craft applied to a story that, legendary pedigree aside, is kind of a standard for a modern audience not steeped in the genre's history. It's exceptionally good craft, though, enough to impress even a jaded fan and just maybe have them checking to make sure there's nothing pink and freaky in the corner.

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