Fantastic Fest 2019 Review: COLOR OUT OF SPACE Is A Goddamn Triumph

Richard Stanley's return to feature filmmaking is also one of the all-time best Lovecraft adaptations.

To talk about Richard Stanley's Color Out of Space without rehashing the events that led to this film would be a huge disservice to both Richard Stanley and the movie itself. Here we have the return of a director who was railroaded out of Hollywood over two decades ago, an H.P. Lovecraft adaptation starring Nicolas Cage which takes a number of very big swings in its mission to bring cosmic horror to the big screen, and it's not simply "competently-made" or "watchable". It's a ferocious, gorgeously-shot fever dream that proves beyond any reasonable doubt that this is where Richard Stanley belongs - behind the camera, melting minds, an active member of the horror filmmaking community. In my humble opinion, that makes Color Out of Space more than just a great Lovecraft adaptation - its existence is one of the year's most satisfying (and, quite frankly, touching) success stories. 

But let's talk about the movie. Color Out of Space makes a few substantial changes to Lovecraft's original short story, the most notable of which is the decision to bring the film into the modern-day, but still manages to deliver in the cosmic horror department. This is the most difficult aspect of adapting Lovecraft's work, and Stanley pulls it off by employing a number of tricks: mind-bending VFX (some of which, yes, may remind you of Annihilation), a performance from Cage that gets more and more unhinged as the film goes along (the Mandy star is doing something very particular in this role, but it's better experienced than explained; just trust me - it's great), some truly gnarly body-horror gags, and the understanding that when it comes to cosmic horror, the unknowability of it all is very much part of the point. Good H.P. Lovecraft adaptations are notoriously hard to come by, and this is one of the better ones. 

The story's fairly simple: a family, led by Cage, has moved out to the country for a change of scenery...and to maybe raise a few alpacas. One evening, a meteor comes whistling out of the sky and craters itself right in the middle of the family's front lawn. This meteor glows and pulsates with an unsettling magenta light, and it's not long before its presence (and its contamination of the local water supply) is causing some very troubling changes among those who've come in contact with it, including madness, violence, time distortion, and what may or may not be hallucinations. Color Out of Space takes its time showcasing each of the meteor's terrible powers before really putting these characters through the wringer. Many of them will not survive.

The cast, which also includes Joely Richardson, Madeline Arthur, Tommy Chong, Elliot Knight and Brendan Meyer, all turn in strong work, but in the end this is really Cage's film, and I am pleased to report that he delivers the Full Cage Experience. As the film opens, Cage's character reads as hopelessly corny, a dork of a dad who's just trying to keep things interesting for his wife and kids. By the end of Stanley's film, the character becomes someone else entirely, and it's great fun to watch Cage working through the steps of this transformation. This is Cage's second homerun performance with Spectrevision (who released the aforementioned Mandy), and I really hope they continue working together. These results cannot be argued with.

Special mention should be made of Colin Stetson's score, as well as the digital effects employed to bring Stanley's cosmic horror vision to life. Both are outstanding in their own ways - the score's sinister and beautiful, while the effects (particularly in one scene, which I won't spoil here) manage to communicate elements of Lovecraft's writing that I've honestly never seen captured before onscreen. As a longtime fan of the work (and, indeed, the cosmic horror genre in general), this was tremendously exciting for me, and - much like I hope Cage continues working with Spectrevision - I hope Stanley and his crew will come back for seconds, thirds and fourths. If this is the level of quality Stanley's capable of, well, there's no reason we shouldn't be getting a new Lovecraft adaptation from him every few years. This is that good.

Color Out of Space has long been a big question mark - would Stanley still have it? Would he really be able to capture the Lovecraftian madness this story requires? Would he pair well with Cage? - and I'm so happy to be able to say that the answer to all of these questions is a resounding "Fuck yeah". Welcome back, Richard. You've been missed.