“Colour Out of Space”: Film Review

This stellar adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Colour Out of Space” marks a brilliant return for cult director Richard Stanley.

The Gardners are happily settling into a beautiful New England farmhouse surrounded by dense woods. It’s a recent inheritance that promises to be life-changing. The mother (Joely Richardson) is already hard at remote-working, up in the attic, busy with her finance job, while the father (Nicolas Cage), all wide-eyed goodness, delights at the prospect of working the land – and breeding alpacas. There’s been hardship, family illness, but now they’re living the dream, he tells his wife. All looks rosy, and the whole family is in the pink.

It won’t be long before those hues veer into an indescribable colour never seen before: the colour out of space. Cosmic horrors are about to be unleashed. Who better than Nicolas Cage – the archetype of a good man prone to madness in the face of horror – to star in such a lurid tale?

A freakish event involving a fallen meteor heralds a series of disturbing events, apparently in defiance of the known laws of physics. Time stands still, cells fuse, monsters are born, life turns to death and putrid decay.

“Colour Out of Space” is ingenious, genuinely unsettling, and eerily contemporary despite its 1927 origin. Then as now, rural idylls and nature are a source of longing yet also fear for urban dwellers subject to an indifferent universe as liable as ever to crush hubristic dreams.

Nicolas Cage, as the hapless and decent father, excels as always as he crescendos from mild bemusement to heights of outrage and fear, when the only humane thing to do is scream and shoot. The camera does not shy away from showing what it is that horrifies him, but this is not gratuitous – the object of horror is something awful yet poetic and meaningful enough to make the mind spin and somehow feel love.

Lovecraft’s short story, with its blasted heath and repeat collisions between science, wonder and the uncanny, has been echoed across the years in many books and films, including the Strugatstky Brothers’ “Roadside Picnic”, in turn echoed by Tarkovsky’s “Stalker”, and more recently Jeff VanderMeer’s “Annihilation”, adapted by Alex Garland into a riot of colour and lush vegetation.

While adaptations such as Huan Vu’s excellent “Die Farbe” falter slightly in that fidelity to the original tale means the film stretches just short of a fully fleshed feature, Richard Stanley and scriptwriting collaborator Scarlett Amaris succeed in creating a full-blown narrative that remains in keeping with Lovecraft’s text.

There are ingenious departures from the original which hint that Stanley’s “The Colour Out of Space” might be part of a planned trilogy. One of the characters in the film, the Gardners’ daughter Lavinia, does not appear in Lovecraft’s original, but rather in another Lovecraft story, which picks up similar themes: “The Dunwich Horror”.  In the meantime, as we all wait for Stanley’s fourth movie, remember: if strange phenomena manifest around you and new colours materialise in the sky, don’t drink the water.

Catch “Colour Out of Space”, “Annihilation”, “Stalker” and “Roadside Picnic”– on Amazon Prime.

Interested in the books that inspired all these films?  Find them all in KinoSelect’s bookstore

Director Richard Stanley
Writers Scarlett Amaris, Richard Stanley
Director of Photography Steve Annis
With Joely Richardson, Madeleine Arthur, Elliot Knight, Tommy Chong, Brendan Meyer, Q’orianka Kilcher, Julian Hilliard.

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