Shortly after retreating to rural life in a beautiful old inherited farmhouse in Arkham, the Gardners are already dealing with Theresa Gardner’s (Joely Richardson) cancer when a meteorite lands in front of their house accompanied by bright flashes of fuchsia. Soon strangely colorful flowers are growing near their well which youngest son Jack Jack (Julian Hilliard, Netflix's 'The Haunting of Hill House') becomes oddly drawn to. The whole family, their dog Sam and herd of alpacas will begin to mutate or go mad because of the “Color Out of Space.”
The combination of production company SpectreVision’s desire to make a faithful adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft and their securing of Richard Stanley, whose career was effectively derailed after he was fired from the infamous 1996 “The Island of Dr. Moreau” after acclaim for his indies “Hardware” and “Dust Devil,” to bring it to fruition, became irresistible when Stanley explained he’d spent the intervening years searching for the Holy Grail. His belief that the Grail was literally the fragments of a meteorite that had been the basis of many religions bore an uncanny familiarity with Lovecraft’s short story ‘The Colour Out of Space,’ which Stanley adapted for the screen with Scarlett Amaris, changing its nineteenth century setting to modern times.
As we hear about a deep forest said to be evil, we come upon what appears to be a witch performing a ritual on the shores of a lake. Ward Phillips (Elliot Knight, TV's 'American Gothic'), a young man surveying for hydroelectricity, also comes upon her, just as we realize this is
the teenaged Lavinia Gardner (Madeleine Arthur, "Big Eyes") attempting a Wiccan spell to rid her mother of cancer. There is a wary attraction between the two and Ward will take the place of Lovecraft’s unnamed narrator.
At home, there is the usual tension between Nathan Gardner (Nicolas Cage) and eldest pot-smoking son Benny (Brendan Meyer, TV's 'The OA') and his Goth daughter Lavinia, symbolized by their preference for mom’s cooking as he tries to support his wife by taking on dinner. That night, we’ll witness the strain Theresa’s cancer has put on their sex life, she feeling undesirable (because of a mastectomy, we deduce) as Nathan gently woos her, ‘his golden lady.’ Out in the hallway, Jack Jack becomes catatonic as fuchsia shock waves envelop the house.
Stanley has crafted a beautiful production combining shocking pink CGI effects and practical mutations, recalling such films as Stuart Gordon’s “From Beyond” and John Carpenter’s “The Thing,” with a nostalgically appointed rural farm made rustically chic by its hip inhabitants (Nathan raises alpacas while Theresa is an online trader). The director builds suspense slowly, implicating Mayor Tooma ("The New World's" Q'orianka Kilcher) with a comment about having wished to buy the property combined with Ward’s suspicions about the purity of the local water supply as the Gardner family begins to lose chunks of time and behave more and more strangely. Jack Jack’s increasing fealty to the family well is the red flag Stanley plants before creeping us out entirely with an extended and suspenseful scene of Theresa chopping carrots we just know is about to go wrong.
But don’t expect “Mandy”-level Cage outrageousness here, despite being distributed by the same RLJ Entertainment. Cage plays his father farmer as a frustrated man who occasionally goes off script, like the tantrum he throws along with the oversized tomatoes he’s grown that disappoint in flavor. The film’s real star is Arthur, keeping us engaged with a sympathetic reliability belied by her outward appearance. Tommy Chong adds some stoner flavor if little plot necessity as mystical hermit Ezra living in a shack in the woods.
While Stanley adds some amount of interest symbolically tying Theresa’s cancer to subsequent alien mutations, he can’t quite bring the material to a satisfying conclusion. With no explanation for the colorful devastation, we’re left with Ward ruminating on the barren wasteland left in its wake determined not to speak of it.
Robin gives "Color Out of Space" a C+.
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