Starring Nicolas Cage. Rated 14A
In H.P. Lovecraft’s short story, published in 1927, the colour out of space exists just beyond the edges of human perception, emanating from a meteorite that crashes onto the property of the unfortunate Gardner family, bringing madness, mutation, and death in its uncanny wake.
In general, Lovecraft’s bag was to conjure horrors that defied description, to express the inexpressible, which in turn has proved a fatal lure to movie-makers determined to film the unfilmable. Exploitation legends AIP took the first whack at this particular Amazing Story with 1965’s Die, Monster, Die!, which was charming enough as a lowly drive-in flick but a plodding dud in Lovecraftian terms.
Considerably better is this year’s effort, helmed by Richard Stanley, an artist regularly hailed as a thwarted visionary since 1990’s Hardware. His career hit a wall in the mid-'90s when he tried to wrangle an Old God even more cruel and fantastic than Cthulhu, namely Marlon Brando, who made sure Stanley was dumped from his dream project, The Island of Dr. Moreau.
Having licked his wounds for a couple decades, the reenergized director returns to narrative filmmaking with his proclivities on full display. Departing from the text, Color opens with a ritual performed by the the Gardner family’s wannabe Wiccan daughter, Lavinia (Vancouver’s Madeleine Arthur), asking the spirits to relieve her mother from cancer. Perhaps more fatally, the bored teen, recently relocated to the family farm on the rural outskirts of Arkham, makes a further request of the supernatural world: “Please get me out of here.”
This witchy business is interrupted by Ward (Elliot Knight), a cute hydrologist surveying the area for a planned dam project. He gradually meets the rest of the family: stoner teen Benny (Brendan Meyer) and younger brother Jack (Julian Hilliard), as well as the hermit Ezra (Tommy Chong), who lives off the grid with his cat, G-Spot—snort—and talks knowingly about “the space weather”. As Mom, Joely Richardson is required to do little more than suffer. With Nicolas Cage as Dad, the film eventually asks the same of us. His performance starts to go Brando around the time he revives that vowel-torturing fake accent from Vampire’s Kiss.
Still, even as he verges on liability, an uncaged Cage is no deal-breaker, and the suggestion that Lavinia’s bad magic is responsible for drawing down the magenta-hued visitor from space gives the film an emotional weight that eventually pays off. By then, Stanley and his effects crew have, naturally, run riot with colour—the transformation of the landscape into an irradiated pinky-purple reverse Eden is fabulous—while arousing a kind of cosmic nausea in the viewer, most notably with an event that makes a grotesque Oedipal spectacle of Mom and Jack.
Weirdly, the film then abandons the younger son and his sickening plight (it really is disgusting) as Color Out of Space takes refuge in the sanity-warping effects of that meteorite. A half-hearted attempt at eco-consciousness also disappears inside Stanley’s over-the-top construct, which, for a brief but wonderful moment, takes us on a ride into the psychedelic universe inside Lavinia’s glowing forehead wound. Honestly, it feels petty to complain about the film's flaws after writing a sentence like that.