H.P. Lovecraft's “The Colour Out of Space” has been adapted for the screen several times and in several ways, most notably as 1965's Die, Monster! Die! and 1987's The Curse. Those versions didn't have Nicolas Cage, though. The new Color Out of Space brings together the quirky actor with director Richard Stanley, the man behind the cult favorite Hardware. Together, they deliver what may be the best, most awesomely kooky adaptation of this story so far.
Cage plays Nathan, an alpaca farmer who lives on a sprawling piece of land with his ill wife Theresa (Joely Richardson), Wiccan daughter Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur), and son Benny (Brendan Meyer). There's also an old hippie named Ezra (Tommy Chong) who lives in a shack out in the woods behind the house. One night, a meteor crash-lands on Nathan's property. It emits a beautiful, yet ominous purple light. That purple begins spreading, causing weird flowers to grow and altering the look of the land.
The effect it has on people is even worse. Some of the family members go into trances after exposure to it. Others, especially Nathan, start to exhibit anger outbursts and aggressive behavior. The purple even has the power to fuse living beings together. Lavinia is the one who most notices that something bad is happening. The question becomes whether the family can escape the glow before it's too late.
Nicolas Cage's career has been in fairly dire straits over the past few years. Most of his recent films are direct-to-VOD schlock like Primal, 211, and Pay the Ghost. Worse, Cage has shown a propensity to indulge in what might politely be called exaggerated acting. Here at last he finds a project where that intentionally over-the-top approach feels justified. Nathan's descent into madness is made both effective and entertaining in Cage's hands. Plus, he gets to enthusiastically recite lines like, “If you don't mind, it's time to milk the alpacas!”
Stanley's stylish direction makes the gradual encroachment of the purple menacing. At times, he doesn't even call attention to it, allowing us to notice on our own that the front lawn has turned purple or that more flowers have popped up. Later, when the colorful force starts taking a toll on human and animal bodies, Stanley switches into high gear, giving us ickiness on a level commensurate with one of the all-time great Lovecraft adaptations, Stuart Gordon's From Beyond. Good old-fashioned practical effects make those bits squirm-inducing fun.
Color Out of Space falters a little bit because Nathan and Lavinia are the only reasonably developed characters. The rest are one-dimensional and flat, including the town's mayor (Q'orianka Kilcher), who has a grudge against Nathan. (In fairness, though, Tommy Chong tries hard to increase the crazy factor.) Providing them with more depth would have strengthened the story's impact overall, especially toward the end, when the film veers into a form of existential horror.
For a Lovecraft movie to work, it has to be smart, a little bit gross, and in possession of disturbing ideas about human transformation into something “other.” In spite of some weak characterization, Color Out of Space has all those things, which makes it a stylish, effective, often darkly funny chiller. As an added bonus, you also get alpaca jokes and Nicolas Cage at his most Nicolas Cage-iest.
out of four
Color Out of Space is unrated, but contains adult language and some bloody/gory content. The running time is 1 hour and 51 minutes.