Color Out of Space review

February 21, 2020

 Image courtesy of nytimes.com

Read our interview with the director here

 

H.P. Lovecraft’s name long ago entered literary canon as a synonym for truly good horror. From the humblest fan of the genre to greats like Stephen King, all recognise the most disturbing stories, and terrifying cosmic concepts as in some way ‘Lovecraftian’. Yet despite his fame (and infamy), Lovecraft’s works have consistently failed to translate into cinema. This is partly due to the author’s less than stellar reputation. It is fair to say that Lovecraft has fallen out of favour with modern audiences, and for good reason: although his contribution to horror is rightly celebrated, he was outwardly racist for his whole life. Additionally, the content of his work is no easy task to adapt, with most of his stories centred around cosmic horror, ideas of extra-dimensional gods and mind-bending entities too abstract to translate to any visual medium. So who, one might ask, would attempt to tackle such a tricky project? Enter Richard Stanley, a director who after years out of the limelight has burst back onto the scene with his rendition of some of horror’s hardest ideas.

 

Color Out of Space follows the events surrounding a meteorite crash landing into the farm of Nathan Gardner (Nic Cage) and his family, and their terrifying struggle to survive and maintain their sanity in spite of the alien entity that came with it. Fans of Nic Cage need not worry; the cult actor definitely goes ‘full Cage’ here, leaning fully into his character’s insanity with his notorious exuberance (ever wanted to hear him scream ‘alpacas’?). The rest of the cast aren’t as strong as they might be - Cage is the highlight here - but they do a suitably good job at seeming truly terrified of the events around them. Elliott Knight was particularly well-cast as Ward, a hydrologist surveying the area surrounding the Gardner farm. All of Lovecraft’s stories were told by a first-hand witness of events, be that through narration, rumour, or diary entries. Ward fills that role in Color Out of Space - it is with his narration that the film begins and ends, and for much of it he acts as the hapless audience insert, very reluctantly there to experience the story’s eldritch events firsthand.

 

Colin Stetson’s transcendental soundtrack might be the star of the show. Fresh off the success of 2018’s Hereditary, the composer has already secured a name for himself as one of the most exciting composers in the industry, using his trademark blend of woodwind and brass arrangements to weave uniquely vivid, unnerving auditory experiences. The sense of dread created by the soundtrack throughout really cannot be understated - Steston’s otherworldly sense for balancing frenetic, atonal peaks and otherworldly, expansive lulls results in a truly unworldly backing to the film.

 

The visuals largely compliment this, Stanley’s blend of CGI particles and practical, animatronic monstrosities doing a good job to bring some of Lovecraft’s frightful apparitions to the big screen. Somewhat disappointingly, the film does fall back onto some horror cliches. Jump scares abound and one or two scenes rely more on gross-out horror than intelligently disturbing concepts. Nevertheless, there is no failure to generate fear here, and the occasionally weak special effects do little to distract from the genuinely creepy tone the film manages to strike. Importantly, one never loses the feeling that the production was born out of a deep respect for the source material. A creative blast, its shortcomings are far outweighed by what a joyous, hammy victory it is for all involved.

 

Overall, Color Out of Space is a lovably creepy foray into the cosmic horror genre, and with the announcement of two more such films from Stanley, hopefully the start of a wave of future cult classics.

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First published in 1965, InQuire is the University of Kent student newspaper.

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