Adapting the work of H.P. Lovecraft has proved incredibly difficult for many filmmakers over the years. The phantasmagorical nature of his work is highly effective on paper but often less compelling once depicted on screen. However, with the right approach, the spirit of his stories can indeed be adapted, even if it is accompanied by some shortfalls. Released in 2020, Color Out of Space is an attempt at bringing to life the short story of the same name. Directed by Richard Stanley, this is a movie that nails its atmosphere and visuals but stumbles when it comes to dialogue and plot progression.
After a meteorite falls in front of their farmhouse, the Gardner family finds themselves battling forces that seem intent on bending their mind and soul. The film stars Nicolas Cage as Nathan Gardner, alongside a supporting cast that includes Joely Richardson, Madeleine Arthur, Brendan Myer and Julian Hilliard.
Doused in a purple glow and kissed by neon, the other-worldly visuals seen here are completely transportive. Although they are supported by some poor CGI, this does not prevent the overall ambience from being wondrous to look at. Furthermore, there are some incredible uses of practical effects, many of which are reminiscent of John Carpenter’s The Thing. All this is led by a great performance from Nicolas Cage. Starting out with a more subtle approach, he proves that he doesn’t always need to be over-the-top (even if the third act does introduce some of these sensibilities). Unfortunately, while it is very enjoyable, the journey that Cage takes us on is rather poorly paced and includes some truly awful dialogue.
An example of a well-told descent into madness is The Shining. Here, each rung down the ladder seems to be constructed and placed with purpose. In Color Out of Space, only every fifth rung seems to matter. One crazy thing will happen, followed by a period that stagnates the narrative, only to eventually reach another pivotal point. These big moments still make an impact but often don’t feel earned when you analyse the story as a whole. This is also compounded by the dialogue, which is never really good and often will make your eyes roll. Nicolas Cage has the talent to make some of these words passable, but his co-stars’ lesser performances do not.
Jumping back to the positives, the cinematographer Steve Annis must be commended for the aforementioned brilliant visuals. Beyond this, further congratulations must be made for the man behind the sound of the film. The score by Colin Stetson is simply sublime. With each kaleidoscopic note, he provides a fantastic skeleton for the body of this feature.
Color Out of Space is a movie that achieves many of its goals. As a psychedelic piece of cinema, it largely succeeds. Sadly, some factors such as the dialogue and plot progression take it down some notches. With news that the director is planning more Lovecraft projects, there is still hope that he learns from the mistakes made here, and takes his filmmaking to the next level.