Color Out of Space (2020) Movie Review: A Campy and Gorgeous Lovecraft Adaptation

Not on the same level of nuttiness as Mandy, but a thrilling, B-grade invasion film overall.
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One of the great things about Nicolas Cage’s decisions to appear in practically anything that crosses his desk is, every now and then, we’ll get a movie that is just as wild and as over-the-top as his performance. In 2018, the Oscar-winning actor partnered with Panos Cosmatos for the phantasmagoric Mandy, which equally balanced its bonkers and campy approach with Cage’s typical moments of shouting and wide-eyed gazes. Most of the time, Cage does his own thing while the script and direction do something entirely different. In most cases, the result is something conventional with some meme-able moments provided by Cage. But Mandy gave us another example of, when given the right director, Cage can excel in a performance and the movie can match him - whether it’s over the top or a more serious role.

That being said, Color Out of Space sees the return of filmmaker Richard Stanley, after he was fired from the disastrous production of 1996’s The Island of Dr. Moreau. It also is from the same people that produced Mandy, so, essentially, they know a good formula when they see one. And mixing Cage with a director like Stanley, while adapting an H.P. Lovecraft short story, is the perfect recipe for a movie that is equal parts haunting and humorous. It’s filled with moments that are a bit grotesque, but also is so aware of how ridiculous it is and gives the viewer some great laughs along the way.

Color Out of Space takes place in the fictional town of Arkham, Massachusetts, and focuses on the Gardner family. Nathan (Cage) is already struggling with adapting from city living to a country lifestyle, while his wife, Theresa (Joely Richardson) is also recovering from a bout with cancer. Their daughter, Lavina (Madeline Arthur), is a practicing Wiccan and starts the film with a prayer for her mother to heal. There’s also the teenage stoner son, Benny (Brendan Meyer), and the family’s youngest, Jack (Julian Hilliard). Things take a sudden turn for the worst when a meteorite crash lands in the area, contaminating the water and taking control of those in the area. It causes people to do uncharacteristic things and also brings an array of weird objects, smells, and colors.

Cinematographer Steve Annis and the visual effects team do an incredible job of creating some stunning, nightmarish scenery and some freaky visuals that come as the result of the meteor crash. There are some outlandish moments that might have been more effective had the budget been increased, but, overall, they work based on the fact of just being so unlike anything else out there.

Working with an actor like Cage, and knowing his range, Stanley allows the actor to go all out. From bizarrely changing his voice in some scenes to another scene in which he angrily throws contaminated tomatoes into a trash can, it’s exactly the type of performance one would expect from Cage, and he does not disappoint. Oh, and his obsession with alpacas is brilliant stuff, too.

The rest of the cast around him is just fine, with Tommy Chong showing up as a vagrant that lives off the grid near the Gardner family and has a cat with a rather unique name. It’s fitting material for Chong, and, despite his limited appearance, he is able to make it work. Q'orianka Kilcher, usually a terrific actress, shows up as the town’s mayor and doesn’t really add much to the story, while Elliot Knight is a nice addition to the story as the water surveyor on whom Lavina has a crush. Their subplot isn’t a big, important piece to the film, but Stanley’s insertion of it is a nice touch before things go haywire.

While not nearly as crazy or as original as Mandy, Color Out of Space does have a similar trait with the Cosmatos film in that it, too, could develop a strong, cult following in years to come. It’s a gorgeous-looking film that is just as equally bizarre as Cage’s performance. It never becomes too serious, and the viewer can easily tell that both Cage and Stanley are having fun with the source material, while also being respectful to Lovecraft.

Color Out of Space will play for a special, one-night event on January 22 in select theaters nationwide and then release to VOD on January 24.

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